Berkeley art engineering firm pledges $30,000 in pro bono services to artists

RBHU Engineering artists covid-19 crisis
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Rbhu, a local engineering firm that specializes in large art structures, has pledged $30,000 in pro bono services for artists in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artists can apply to receive the services until June 1, and the firm will announce the recipients in mid-June. It will allot up to $15,000 to a single project and present three smaller awards. Rbhu is looking for artists that need financial support to make projects that raise awareness for an issue of the artist’s choosing.

“Our main mission is to bring the main vision of the artist to reality while working with the laws of physics,” said Alireza Lahijanian, co-founder and principal of Rbhu and a campus alumnus. “What we do is engineering outside of the box.”

Rbhu works on projects some other engineering firms would not consider because of the their sizes or unique designs, Lahijanian added.

Using an artist’s idea, Rbhu creates engineering drawings the artist can use to ensure the final piece is “structurally sound” and can withstand physical stresses such as wind, according to Lahijanian.

Lahijanian said in an email that one of Rbhu’s past engineering projects is the world’s largest sculpture made of recycled plastic — a life-sized blue whale meant to call attention to the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean.

Natasha von Kaenel, director of marketing and e-commerce for industrial art workshop The Crucible and a former columnist for The Daily Californian, said she hopes artists who need Rbhu’s skill sets will benefit from the pro bono services.

“For a lot of working artists, the COVID-19 crisis has decimated their main source of income and this crisis has really become about how to stay housed and fed,” von Kaenel said in an email. “For our community, in particular, 88% of surveyed staff and faculty reported they were worried about being able to afford their essential expenses while The Crucible is closed.”

Rbhu put about five projects on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted the company and artists who commissioned engineering services, Lahijanian said. For example, some artists present their art at Burning Man, which has been canceled due to COVID-19, according to Lahijanian.

Daniel Muccino, a creative engineer at Rbhu, said he likes to work on projects that deliver a message. Muccino hopes that artists will be inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic to work on meaningful projects.

The purpose of awarding pro bono work to artists is to “bring people together and raise their spirits,” according to Lahijanian.

“In times of crisis, strong communities pull together, share resources, and help each other in any way they can,” von Kaenel said in the email. “I have been incredibly touched to see the myriad of ways organizations of all kinds have stepped up to help our community during this time.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.