Meld­ing of art and tech­nol­ogy

CalArts’ pres­i­dent will leave a legacy of change when he steps down in 2017


Decades be­fore the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion emerged in full force, Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios adapted new tech­nolo­gies for the first an­i­mated film to suc­cess­fully syn­chro­nize sound and im­age in 1928’ s “Steam­boat Wil­lie.”

Later, stu­dio engi­neers de­vel­oped a multi- chan­nel sound sys­tem used in the 1940 an­i­mated film “Fan­ta­sia;” it was a pre­cur­sor to sur­round sound.

Some­where be­tween Mickey Mouse and Steve Jobs, the idea of art melded with tech­nol­ogy seemed to rup­ture, sep­a­rat­ing two cul­tures. Fund­ing for arts ed­u­ca­tion — mu­sic, dance, draw­ing — f loun­dered, while science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math — STEM ed­u­ca­tion — f lour­ished.

But arts ed­u­ca­tors and tech­nol­ogy chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers are ac­knowl­edg­ing once again that the two fields not only work handin- hand but that tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances are of­ten nour­ished by arts- inspired cre­ative meth­ods and crit­i­cal think­ing.

The con­nec­tions re­cently were on the mind of Steven D. Lavine, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of the Arts, who an­nounced Wed­nes­day that he is step­ping down from his post in 2017. Lavine will have spent 29 years at the helm of the Va­len­cia- based pri­vate cam­pus; it was en­vi­sioned by founder Walt Dis­ney as a kind of Cal­tech of the arts.

Lavine has over­seen a sig­nif­i­cant evo­lu­tion in arts ed­u­ca­tion and a big part of that change, he said, is the in­creas­ing in­ter­weav­ing of art and tech­nol­ogy.

“CalArts from the first has em­braced tech­nol­ogy not as an en­emy of the arts but as a tool of art,” Lavine said, not­ing that the school re­cently be­gan of­fer­ing a mi­nor in dig­i­tal arts, with such cour­ses as com­puter pro­gram­ming, Web de­sign and dig­i­tal sound pro­duc­tion.

Such train­ing not only opens new ways to cre­ate art and com­mu­ni­cate with au­di­ences, it also opens new ca­reer paths.

“In­stead of hav­ing to be a waiter while launch­ing their ca­reer,” Lavine said, “they can ac­tu­ally work in tech­nol­ogy star­tups and make a de­cent wage while they go out and au­di­tion.”

Barely a week be­fore Lavine’s an­nounce­ment, the school launched a new startup, Kadenze, one of the first dig­i­tal plat­forms for arts- fo­cused ed­u­ca­tion with online cour­ses from cam­puses in­clud­ing Stan­ford, Prince­ton, UCLA and the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago.

Classes range from cul­ture and art mak­ing and the history of mod­ern and post­mod­ern art to one us­ing al­go­rithms and soft­ware tools to cre­ate new mu­si­cal in­stru­ments that re­spond to ges­tures.

“Be­fore, there were two sides of the equa­tion with engi­neers who knew a lit­tle bit about cre­ativ­ity and artists who knew a lit­tle bit about en­gi­neer­ing,” said Ajay Ka­pur, who is CalArts’ an as­so­ciate dean and a founder of Kadenze.

Now, Ka­pur said, art schools are breed­ing new “cre­ative tech­nol­o­gists” who will cre­ate “de­sign ex­pe­ri­ences for the fu­ture of en­ter­tain­ment, games and sto­ry­telling.”

It was only a short while ago that arts ed­u­ca­tion seemed the poor stepchild, with Pres­i­dent Obama, leg­is­la­tors and aca­demics urg­ing ac­tion and fund­ing to make up for Amer­i­can stu­dents’ short­com­ings in science and math. Those con­cerns re­main, but they also spawned the so- called STEM to STEAM move­ment ( science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, arts and math) which seeks to cou­ple science and math with art and de­sign in lower and higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“Very quickly peo­ple re­al­ized that with­out the con­text, the con­cep­tional de­vel­op­ment and crit­i­cal think­ing that arts and de­sign bring to the ta­ble, there was a huge loss of op­portu- nity,” said Rosanne Somer­son, pres­i­dent of the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, a ma­jor pro­moter of STEAM.

Her school is now see­ing grad­u­ate- level stu­dents from the tech world us­ing arts and de­sign train­ing to tackle global chal­lenges, Somer­son said.

De­sign stu­dents such as Sarah Pease, mean­while, are grav­i­tat­ing to tech­nol­ogy. Pease grad­u­ated in 2013 from the Rhode Is­land school, where she was a stu­dent STEAM leader, and is now the only de­signer at a San Fran­cisco tech­nol­ogy startup.

“Art most cer­tainly has its place, but I want to help peo­ple and see a di­rect out­come of my ef­forts, so I de­cided to come to Sil­i­con Val­ley to help cap­i­tal­ize on those op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she said.

Mean­while, a soft­ware firm chief ex­ec­u­tive re­cently joined the board of di­rec­tors at the Cal­i­for­nia Col­lege of the Arts, which has cam- puses in San Fran­cisco and Oak­land.

“In many ways, we’re part­ner­ing with those com­pa­nies di­rectly in co- cur­ric­u­lar op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Provost Me­lanie Corn said. “Those com­pa­nies are pulling from young de­sign­fo­cused minds and giv­ing stu­dents a great con­nec­tion.”

Rep. Jim Langevin ( DR. I.) in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that en­cour­ages the in­clu­sion of art and de­sign in fed­er­ally funded STEM pro­grams.

The Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion is fund­ing pro­grams such as the Art of Science Learn­ing, an ini­tia­tive that uses the arts to spark a more cre­ative ap­proach to tack­ling a va­ri­ety of prob­lems such as wa­ter re­sources in San Diego, ur­ban nutri­tion in Chicago and trans­porta­tion al­ter­na­tives in Worces­ter, Mass. Teams use jazz im­pro­vi­sa­tion, vis­ual and spo­ken word po­etry to help de­velop new ways of solv­ing prob­lems.

In his re­main­ing two years, Lavine said, he will fo­cus on fundrais­ing for schol­ar­ships, trans­form­ing the school’s gov­ern­ing struc­ture into one that is more trans­par­ent and fur­ther in­creas­ing di­ver­sity and CalArts’ rep­u­ta­tion as a haven for in­ter­na­tional stu­dents. He con­fessed that he would love to start an en­gi­neer­ing school but ac­knowl­edged that there are al­ready great ones lo­cally with which CalArts col­lab­o­rates.

Still, the sen­ti­ment is an in­her­i­tance from that early adopter: Walt Dis­ney, he said.

“Art in schools is an in­fal­li­ble way to re­lease the cre­ativ­ity of stu­dents,” he said “and get them en­gaged in ed­u­ca­tion.”

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

CALARTS was founded with the idea of be­ing a Cal­tech of the arts. “CalArts from the f irst has em­braced tech­nol­ogy not as an en­emy of the arts but as a tool of art,” Pres­i­dent Steven Lavine says.

Ste­fanie Keenan

STEVEN LAVINE has been the pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of the Arts since 1988.

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