The arts and humanities have enjoyed a long, rewarding courtship with science and technology for decades at the University of Illinois. With the creation of the edream Institute at Illinois this month, the marriage becomes official.
The new enterprise - known formally as the Emerging Digital Research and Arts Media Institute - 'leverages our strengths in artistic performance, computing and engineering,' said edream director Donna Cox.
As parents of both the bride and groom, the U. of I. will toast the new union on 20 April, when the institute will be formally announced by Provost Linda Katehi at a reception coinciding with the annual conference of the Humanities Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory at the Krannert Centre for the Performing Arts in Urbana. The public is invited to the reception, which takes place 5:30 to 7 PM. The provost will speak at 6 PM.
Seed funding for edream has been provided by the Office of the Provost, with in-kind support from the U. of I.'s National Centre for Supercomputing Applications; additional funding is expected to come from public, private and corporate sources, Cox said.
The public also is invited to attend 'Bluelights in the Basement,' a free digital-arts showcase performance, beginning at 7 PM on 20 April in the Krannert Centre lobby.
Featured pieces by U. of I. faculty and contributors from other universities will exemplify the types of programs and projects edream will support. Included will be work by U. of I. music professor Guy Garnett, who, along with Bob Patterson, senior programmer at NCSA's Advanced Visualisation Laboratory, is an edream associate director. Also showcased will be work by U. of I. art and design professor John Jennings, educational policy studies professor Ruth Nicole Brown and graduate student Claudine Candy Taaffe. The 'Bluelights' DJ will be graduate student Edward Moses; theatre professor Lisa Dixon will serve as master of ceremonies.
The event also will spotlight the inaugural transfer of digital-arts media between NCSA and Krannert Centre by means of a new, 10-gigabyte connection funded by the National Science Foundation.
The edream Institute is a direct outgrowth of the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity, an arts-technology incubator led by Mike Ross, Krannert Centre director and associate dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, which sought to cultivate campuswide collaborations. The roots of edream, however, have been growing and spreading in multiple directions across campus for many years, Cox said.
'With the launch of edream, the University of Illinois is poised to be at the right place at the right time,' she said. 'This great university has a long history of fostering transformative innovation. We invented the browser (a reference to the precursor to Netscape, known as Mosaic, developed at Illinois by Marc Andreessen); we pioneered computational science, visualisation, virtual reality and computer music. The university has unique art-technology assets such as a world-class performing-arts centre networked to a petascale supercomputing centre.
'Now we are leveraging synergies among the arts, humanities and emerging technologies. We will educate a new generation of students to address some of our socially important, socially relevant problems using new creative approaches with digital media. This goal promises a powerful economic impact.'
Cox, a professor of art and design who holds the Michael Aiken Endowed Chair and directs NCSA's visualisation lab, said the institute's primary emphasis will be interdisciplinary research and education, with a 'meta-theme' of 'creativity and impact.'
'Our goals include fostering creativity through real-world, project-based courses, classrooms and a curriculum that will yield an online master's professional degree as well as a Ph.D. in art informatics.'
Informatics is generally defined as the study of the structure and behaviour of natural and artificial systems that store, process and communicate information, and the development of technologies to implement such systems.
'To my knowledge, a Ph.D. in arts informatics is unique to this university,' Cox said.
And while other universities offer programs in art and technology, edream promises to be distinctive on many other levels.
'We have a goal of creative productions that engender entrepreneurship and positive cultural impact,' she said. 'That approach is unusual in comparison with other art and technology academic programs.
'A criterion by which our success will be measured will be public engagement and community building - both in research and in education, both locally and globally.'
The U. of I. professor, a pioneer in the field of scientific visualisation as an art form - which uses digital imagery and advanced computing to interpret and communicate complex, scientific data - described digital media as 'ubiquitous' in 21st-century culture.
'Digital media permeates our lives,' Cox said. 'Artists are harnessing digital media in the areas of gaming, movie special effects, music, Internet television, digital design, human-computer interfaces and a plethora of new technologies that are evolving everyday.'
Because of the rapid pace of research and development of digital media, teaching methodologies must be adapted in order for university-level instruction to remain relevant.
'By the time a student gets through four years of college, the technology has already changed,' Cox said. 'Now we can draw upon the resources at the University of Illinois to give them hands-on, real-time learning for this technological revolution and be prepared better for the work force and making an economic impact.
'In edream Institute, we're really looking at these educational opportunities and the changes taking place in digital media and society as entrepreneurial opportunities for students.'
The institute's two new academic programs - along with an undergraduate-education component also being developed - are directed toward that end, but are customised to fit the needs of a broad range of students. The professional master's degree program will be geared toward 'preparing our workforce, and people who want to return to school for a master's level program and focus in on digital media,' Cox said.
'There's a real advantage for people who've been out in the work force to come back and get a master's degree. They bring a wealth of knowledge to the table, but also may use this program to bootstrap themselves in all new areas of digital media. Then, hopefully, they will go back into managerial positions, or change careers or even love it and go on to earn a Ph.D.'
The second advanced-degree program, which will lead to a doctorate in arts informatics, will have both humanities theory and digital-arts practice. The program will be aimed at preparing students to teach or to initiate similar programs elsewhere.
'It is very much a hybrid arts-humanities-technology Ph.D.,' Cox said.
The program's first doctoral students will be a group from The Cyprus Institute. They will be applying digital technologies to the study of cultural-heritage topics.
Students enrolled in edream's academic programs will be affiliated with a specific college, but will be able to cross previous curricular divides when choosing coursework options. They also will have access to faculty members, facilities and other resources of existing university affiliates.
Institute partners are the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications; Advanced Visualisation Laboratory; Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies; Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Science; Illinois Informatics Institute, Krannert Centre for the Performing Arts; and The Cyprus Institute.
Working in conjunction with these partners, edream will be positioned to equip digital-media artists and technologists with the tools they need to be tomorrow's innovators - and to work collegially as members of 'Renaissance teams.'
'I coined this term in an article in (the journal) 'Leonardo' in 1986 to characterise an interdisciplinary, approach to solving a complex problem set,' Cox said. 'In the Renaissance, artists and scientists collaborated and engendered new fields in botany and anatomy.'
Today's global problems are much more complex, she said, but potentially solvable when creative minds are given the institutional freedom and resources required to meld with one another and innovate.
'We are on a precipice,' she said. 'We have too many big, world problems to address. Single-person solutions to these problems are going to be much less effective than when you see teams come together to solve them.'
Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign