UNC Asheville students work on tall order to be installed on Times Square NYC

At UNC Asheville's STEAM Studio, a massive project moves full steam ahead, part of a creative journey that will culminate in New York City. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

At UNC Asheville's STEAM Studio, a massive project moves full steam ahead, part of a creative journey that will culminate in New York City.

Students have spent months working on a piece that will soon turn heads on Times Square.

"The student learning is by far paramount," said Brent Skidmore, who's the public arts and humanities chair. "This whole project is a manifestation of the university's mission."

The feat of engineering and art gives students the chance of a lifetime.

"In layman's terms, I'm scabbing on some pieces and filling holes," he said while working in the studio recently alongside students.

Mechatronic engineering students and an art major put their heads together for the project, under the leadership of renowned artist Mel Chin, who's a Black Mountain College Legacy Fellow.

So, start spreading the news.

"If we can make it here, then we can certainly make it there. Just like the song says, right?" Chin joked.

The piece, called Wake, is designed to make a statement about climate change.

"It's going to sit on the plaza at 46th Street," he said.

The 40-foot high structure includes a larger-than-life figurehead of 19th century opera star Jenny Lind.

"And engineered to be animatronic. So, she'll actually have some range of motion," Lin explained.

"We just refer to her as Jenny," said Elijah Nonamaker, who started working on it last fall as a student.

Now a graduate, he's determined to see Jenny make it to the finish line.

"Her head will move. That's this. So, she does three axes of rotation," he said, demonstrating her range of motion.

"It's definitely been stressful at times, but I really enjoy what I've gotten to do. Most people people don't get this experience in their career, and we get to do it as students," he said.

"But her bodice moves, and her dress is stationary. So, it just adds a little bit more complexity," Skidmore said.

The students are now in the final stretch after countless hours of collaboration. Next month, the project will be broken into pieces and transported to New York, where they'll reassemble it.

"There are an immense amount of people that have worked on this project," Skidmore said, tearing up.

The moment shows how much everyone's emotionally invested in the piece.

"It's particularly difficult not to talk about it and be emotional," he said.

This is a tall order, no matter how much experience you have, but Chin's not worried.

"The students are the coolest people I've ever met," he said. "They're calmer than anybody I know. It's immense pressure."

Together, they rise to the challenge of a rare opportunity in the Big Apple

"Failure is not an option," Chin said.

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