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CalArts to launch new art and technology degree program

November 5, 2009 |  5:28 am

CalArts Applying new technologies to visual art isn’t so new anymore.  So the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia is revving up a new program and a new degree – master of fine arts in art and technology – in which the new wrinkle seems to be stepping back and doing some old-fashioned deep, critical thinking about what it means to be an artist who exploits 21st century technology.

When the school  launched its Center for Integrated Media about 15 years ago, as “a place to investigate art-making with computers…we were pretty far ahead of the curve,” says Tom Leeser, who has directed that center for eight years and will head the new master’s degree program that’s branching off from it.  “All the other institutions have caught up with us…. Now it’s evaluating these new technologies critically” that seems to be the next step forward.

Leeser said students in the two-year program will get plenty of the how-to’s of applying whatever the world’s tech genies come up with next to visual art, performance art, and art that intersects with the Internet’s social-networking possibilities. But the plan is to interweave the making of art very closely with the critical thinking that goes into art theory, so that graduates will not only know what they’re doing, but also how it fits into the world of ideas about art and society.

TomLeeser  The Center for Integrated Media, which has five faculty members, will continue offering courses to students in all branches of CalArts who want to use technology in their work on theater, music or whatever else. That  extra course work doesn’t earn them an art and technology degree, but rather a credential to go with their regular degree in art, dance, theater, music, film and video or critical studies.

The new art-and-tech degree program aims to admit its first four students in the fall of 2010, and eventually expand each incoming class to 10 students. Prospective applicants probably should have some credibility in the works-well-with-others department, because the first year calls for a collaborative project created by the entire class; year two is an independent project.   Leeser says that instead of providing a studio for each student, the program aims to set up shop in a “collaborative studio…one big room where there are not boundaries” so ideas can fly freely.

The program director wouldn’t say what the budget for this will be;  plans call for hiring one additional faculty member who’s an artist already working in technical modes.  As fund-raising proceeds, Leeser  said, “hopefully the economy will get better and someone will knock on our door” who’d like their name on an art and technology program or studio. “It’s kind of a funny time to launch a program, but we couldn’t wait.”

-- Mike Boehm


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Photos: CalArts in Valencia, top, by Scott Groller. Tom Leeser, courtesy of CalArts