Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) seeks to further our tradition of innovation in ways that affect not only the arts but the entire learning community. Acquiring funding, building the building, hiring the staff, and opening the doors are important components, but insufficient to realize this vision. Indeed, success will require engaged partners to think and act differently.
Thinking differently must occur in at least two major areas:
- Programs: Faculty—across departments, disciplines, and colleges—as well as our professionals responsible for arts and education programs and venues, must develop the habit of thinking constantly about how they can, through technology, simultaneously extend themselves outward and bring the outside in.
- Infrastructure: Our IT organizations—both central and unit-based—must develop the habit of thinking specifically in terms of program needs as they plan for and invest in networks, systems, skill sets, processes, and procedures.
Acting differently requires proactive collaborations between programs and infrastructure.
Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir furnishes a particularly beautiful and moving example of what this integrative vision can inspire:
Many challenges await us as we move to realize this vision. Here are a few:
- We must identify technologies that will promote self-efficacy and self-sufficiency among our learners.
- We must seek new funding mechanisms/sources to support a new breed of artist-technologist who needs not only traditional arts support but also the complex and expensive technologies that are typical of, for example, a college of engineering.
- Site licenses for software must be more widely shared. Some specialized software will need to be centrally funded, not simply bought with specific grant revenue.
- Although it is counterintuitive to say so, specialized needs may be useful benchmarks for designing enterprise systems. For example, an eportfolio system that interoperates with a robust digital repository for new media creations would be able to serve both document-driven and new-media-based paradigms for storing, aggregating, and presenting student work.
- Many new-media needs can be met by creative participation in open-source communities and solutions. Such participation can leverage immense in-house intellectual capital (faculty and students) to develop/fork such solutions to better suit University’s specific needs. Such an approach may also serve as a foundation for commercialization/licensing.
- Artist-technologists occupy an interesting and challenging hybrid space. Such artists work in emerging technologies, but are also committed to producing art of enduring importance, as well as to developing virtuosities using newfound artifacts. Their predicament offers a specific and intensive demonstration of a dilemma common to all learning communities. Careful attention to the artist-technologist’s dilemmas in this regard can be instructive not only for devising richer support structures for those artists but also for thinking about change and endurance at the macro-level of curriculum, mission, and resource allocation.
- The profession of “artist-technologist” is not yet widely recognized in academia and as such it is currently not optimally supported or understood. Consequently, such professionals often have to resort to writing grants solely for the purpose of maintaining their teaching infrastructure (commonly artist grants that are often limited in scope/size) which can have a considerable impact on their creativity and consequently their tenure prospects. The VT2020 vision should be mindful of the need for more institutional support in basic operating infrastructure for the artist-technologist.