Creative residency programs fusing art, technology, and entrepreneurship are unique but emerging. The widespread availability of visual art at our fingertips is opening up more creative opportunities for artists to develop professionally, economically, and reach a broader community. Artists are increasingly developing their own artistic brand and a loyal following by using Instagram, which has over 800 million active users per month and the highest level of user engagement. Platforms like Artspace and Saatchi Art allow artists to sell work online. And artists like Trevor Paglen and Karim Ben Khalifa are breaking traditional boundaries between art and technology within their works. Here, we highlight how innovative artistic explorations of leading tech-companies have influenced STEAM-based initiatives in higher education and private companies.
Global Companies Put an Emphasis on STEAM
As many of us have diversified creative interests, a primary question is: How do the arts, as traditionally humanities and social science fields, intersect with STEM to contribute to economic development? A recent study of Google employees indicates that the company seeks non-STEM majors based on leadership skills including empathy, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Launched by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), STEAM proposes ideas for the intersection of STEM, Art, and Design in the 21st century. Primary goals of the STEAM initiative are to “transform research policy to place art and design at the center of STEM, encourage the integration of art and design in K-12 and higher education, and influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.” A featured case study is Sesame Street’s shift from STEM to STEAM-based learning in 2013 with “Elmo the Musical” that combines music, math, and interactive digital media tools that encourage problem-solving among youth.
While STEAM is a relatively new term, RISD alum are readily integrating STEAM thinking into their respective industries. Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, recently launched a science-based series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a remake of the 1980s PBS series by Carl Sagan. MacFarlane is using his artistic influence as a leader in the entertainment industry to highlight the significance of science in the 21st century.
As STEAM is gaining traction in education, industry professionals are already fusing art and technology to drive innovation. David Arellanes, a trained electrical engineer who has explored the technical side of photography for over 10 years, has utilized that expertise in his new role as a Qualcomm software engineer in a virtual reality and augmented reality team. Qualcomm develops innovative mobile technologies to support digital communication. For smartphones, Qualcomm invented technologies for image stabilization, photo recognition, enhanced video streaming, accurate location services, wi-fi compatibility, and an embedded wireless modem. They are also developing 5G, a 5th generation mobile network to create immersive user experiences.
Arellanes explains that understanding photography specifics such as exposure and ISO gain aid him in understanding key details of computer vision used in virtual and augmented reality. “Computer vision” is used in positional tracking algorithms, which track the devices’ position in 3D space, making VR and AR experiences possible. “Artists can think of ways to use technology that technology experts might not think about,” Arellanes explains. This suggests the influence of foundational art on emerging technologies.
Creative Residency Programs as a Path for Future Innovation
As noted above, STEAM subconsciously enters our everyday lives through technology-based platforms. Their creative marketing strategies entice us to click, touch, and/or buy to obtain positive reinforcements such as likes, comments, and shares on multiple platforms. As more and more technology companies are recognizing the role of creativity in developing successful technology products, more educational institutions are developing programs that can satisfy the demand for STEAM-trained professionals. Scores of creative residency programs provide an opportunity for artists to enter conversations for future innovation and economic development. The creative residency programs discussed here align with RISD STEAM objectives to encourage the integration of Art + Design in K-12 and higher education, and influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.
The Olin College Creative Residency calls artists to contribute their artistic knowledge at a predominantly engineering university. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2018 marks the first year a creative residency is offered. It aims to bring an artist or creative practitioner to spark new perspectives on the intersection of art, culture, politics, and technology. An open call was available in Fall 2017 for practitioners in creative fields (arts, crafts, writing, music, dance, architecture, and the like) to propose independent, collaborative projects, and campus events. The residency provides a $70,000 stipend, a $10,000 budget to support proposed projects, and access to equipment. The deadline for this opportunity was on December 1; however, similar opportunities may be available in the future.
An Immersive Scholar Creative Residency at North Carolina State University is currently open for the creation of digital art. The deadline for this four- to six-week residency is January 2018. It is an open call for artists, scholars, and creative technologists to support the NCSU Code+Art program Visualizing Digital Scholarship in Libraries and Learning Spaces, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This is the first time a creative residency is offered. Practitioners should explore data, knowledge, and culture through digital wall art installations.
This creative art-based initiative aims to “influence the way that people look at the university’s role in supporting data visualization and digital art.” It offers a $20,000 stipend to cover housing, travel, and project expenses. This NCSU Immersive Scholar residency is part of a broader initiative to support academic visualization and scholarship by multiple institutions such as Brown University, Indiana University-Bloomington, University of California-Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The Adobe Creative Residency provides an opportunity for arts professionals to work on a personal project and engage with the broader community. Residents get full access to Adobe Creative Cloud software, support, and guidance from creative experts. The residency includes a full salary, health benefits, and opportunities to participate in creative conferences. Applications open in January 2018, and 2017 residency participants included graphic designers, photographers, and a UX designer who explored various artistic realms including hand-lettering, digital art, portraiture, storytelling, and infographics. The Creative Residency provides an open-ended opportunity for an artist to build on previous work, take a risk with the support of industry professionals, and extend their artistic network.
As a professional development and networking opportunity, Fox Innovation Lab—a research and development center of Twentieth Century Fox—is hosting a Creating Reality Hackathon in March 2018. The Hackathon aims to encourage the development of new ideas for virtual reality, augmented, and mixed reality apps for entertainment and other industries. It is open to anyone to apply, and the deadline is February 12, 2018. “Hackathon Roles” identified in the application include visual artists, 2D artists, 3D artists, audio designers, soundscape artists, writers, and game designers. The special event includes pre-hackathon workshops, two days of team prototype development, and presentations to industry and academic experts. The Hackathon takes place at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and prizes are based on creativity, originality, and prototype demonstration. This Creating Reality Hackathon provides an opportunity for creative thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration that can lead to further research and development based on industry interest.
Based in San Francisco, the Autodesk Pier 9 Residency program aims to stimulate creative thinking and action-based approaches to challenge “how things are made.” Priority is given to existing Autodesk “Instructables” authors and contributors who have developed creative tutorials for a project. Interested artists, innovators, and researchers are encouraged to become part of the community and develop projects to strengthen their application. Residents are expected to develop several unique projects during a four- to five-month month period and publish them on “Instructables” to share with a broader community. The residency provides a monthly stipend and a project materials allowance, and residents receive training to make optimal use of the Pier 9 equipment. Offering Spring and Fall cohorts, applications are due February 25, 2018, for the Fall program, and Spring applicants will be informed of the deadline in the coming months.
Residents in 2017 explored approaches with 3-D printing and hot air manipulation to create a rose, interactive mixed media virtual reality in an exhibit with digital sculptures, and developing origami sculptures based on an algorithm and sheet metal scoring by a laser cutting or water jet. This Residency provides an opportunity to use advanced software to inform and advance artistic processes and practices to truly challenge how things are made.
These 2018 creative residencies suggest the increasingly significant role of art and technology to advance 21st-century innovation. These opportunities provide a platform for artists to be bold in their visions while developing professionally. All four residencies provide financial support for artists to be economically stable as they explore their fullest creative potential. Although the Hackathon does not provide economic support, it can provide a uniquely collaborative, entrepreneurial opportunity for future economic development. The mix of creative calls from higher education and companies suggest momentum for future STEAM based innovation.