The Partnership Between Art and Tech

A machine drawing a painting.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital age, art and technology are increasingly combining in new ways. Everything from art created via audience participation to the literal use of new tech—computers, cell phones, digital data, and more—is changing the definition of art and how it’s presented.

PNCA grad Angélica Maria Millán Lazon‘s Engendradxs, for example, uses a combination of traditional and more modern technology. By combining fabrics, photographs, and smartphone videos, the presentation gives voice to several generations of women in Millán Lazon’s family. The installation was shown at the Williamson | Knight Gallery in April and at PNCA’s exhibit of MFA projects in June.

But the intersection of art and technology started long before Millán Lazon’s smartphones—and in many cases, it’s been even more elaborate. At London’s “Digital Revolution” show back in 2014, a series of artists displayed projects incorporating everything from audience interaction, lasers, pollution data, and robotics.

Umbrellium’s “Assemblance,” for example, used computer-controlled lasers to create ever-changing light displays based on audience movement and interactions. Visitors literally left trails of light in their wake, thanks to custom-created camera tracking, audio, smoke machines, projectors, computers, and more. For added interest: the audience could create light shows on their own, but if they interacted together as a group, the result was stronger, more resilient, and more sophisticated.

Another part of “Digital Revolution,” brought to you by Russian mixed media artist Dmitry Morozov, relied on a contraption of Morozov’s design that “sniffed out” pollutants like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and methane from the streets of Moscow. By inputting the data into a computer program called Arduino, the resulting data was transformed into shapes and colors—a surprisingly colorful movie of pollution.

Experimentation with technology and art continues today as well. During this year’s New York Art Week, The Verge reported on several particularly interesting installations from Chris Dorland and Jacolby Satterwhite, respectively.

Dorland’s work focused on the creation of video of his own painting, as well as images from a spinal reconstruction website. “The underlying idea,” Dorland told The Verge, “is how technology sees the world and how we see things and how the lens records the world we live in. What happens when you put a Cadillac ad in front of a machine that doesn’t care about the content? It’s reading the information and recording it.”

Satterwhite’s offering had more of a direct correlation with his own family history—not unlike Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs. Going through thousands of his mother’s drawings from the 90s, Satterwhite traced anywhere from ten to fifteen of them and composited them together using 3D animation. “Basically I collect disparate archives and synthesize them together to make incongruent sources and to build a harmonious narrative,” Satterwhite explained.

As our understanding of technology increases—and as artists continue to get more inventive—we’re likely to see even more unusual and innovate combinations of art and technology.

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Hurricane Harvey Postpones First Day of School

Part of a Houston freeway completely submerged in water as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

The flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
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Harvey, the storm classified as a Category 4 hurricane at its peak, has dumped more than 40 inches of rain onto Houston and the surrounding towns in the last week of August. A metropolitan area the size of the State of Delaware flooded as much as fourteen feet deep, affecting as many as 13 million people.

As with many natural disasters, children are among those most disrupted. Houston’s more than 300 schools, which ought to have begun classes on Monday, August 28, are filled with evacuees instead of students. And a few are filled with water. Around 45 schools and educational administrative buildings have some storm damage, up to and including significant flooding.

So Houston and at least 9 other nearby school districts have pushed back their first day until the first week of September. In Houston, that means approximately 215,000 students.

Richard Carranza, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, is cautious, but hopeful about that date.

“Thank goodness it seems like we’re pulling through, but the flooding is not over yet,” said Carranza to US News. “There is a possibility that even on [Sept. 5], depending on the severity of impact to our facilities, we may have a rolling start. It may be that 75 percent of schools are up and ready to go and they’ll get going, and as other schools are able to be cleaned and refurbished, then they will open.

“Probably the most obvious thing is we’ve had to call off the whole first week of school, but our first concern is the safety of our students, teachers and community,” he added.

It’s possible that in the time before then, city infrastructure won’t be back to the point where every student can access the schools. And the school district’s buses have been pressed into service moving evacuees. At the more human level, many students will have lost everything. 30,000 homes and counting are gone, with the city’s poor being the worst-hit. But studies worldwide have shown that the best thing to do for students in a disaster situation is to re-establish routines as close to normal as possible. So back to school it is, as soon as can be managed.

Back-to-School Safety Tips for Students and Parents

Back-to-school safety tips for children and parents

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These aren’t quite the days when kids of all ages were turned loose at dawn to make their own way to school by bus, foot, or bike, but plenty of young students are still given more independence for their commute than they may be prepared for. As students across the country return to school for the 2017-18 school year, police departments everywhere have a few cautions in common.

For students

Make sure that your young student can tell you what the plan is to get them to and from school every day. This is mostly about the youngest kids. Are they always picked up by the same person in the same car? Can they tell you or a teacher the full name of both parents, and what color their car is? If there are custodial issues, do they know their schedule? Do they know your phone number and address? Quiz them until they do—it’s all well and good to have a card in their backpack or data on file with the school, but it’s great to help your young student help themselves.

Also, reinforce your family rules on crossing the street with care, on helmet safety, anything that’s going to be a protection for your child. Make sure you’re following them yourself; your child is watching you for cues.

For parents:

Be careful around schools. You may be running late, stressed, or distracted with your own daily plans, but set all of that aside when you are behind the wheel near any school or school bus. Pedestrian traffic that is mostly minors can be very erratic, and it just takes a second to make a mistake that can’t be undone.

It’s worth it to make time in those first few weeks to arrive early or be able to stay a little late, to get out of your car at the school and meet the staff who manage the bus lines, school administrators, or even the parents of their friends. Making sure you know their faces and they know yours helps protect every student.

Get some other safety tips for students of all ages, and their parents, at the Red Cross website.

Chicago Charity Distributes Free School Supplies to Low-Income Families

School supplies (notebooks, colored pencils, a pair of scissors, a pencil sharpener, etc.).

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For some families, sending their young children back to school is a daunting prospect. But it’s not the classes or the hours that’s burdensome; it’s the growing list of school supplies that they must purchase.

Sent out in advance or brought home on the first day, the list of required schools supplies seems a lot longer than it was “back in the day.” And it’s not just pencils and notebooks anymore. It’s flashcards and a specific brand of printer paper. It’s calculators at younger and younger ages. It’s classroom supplies like Kleenex and hand sanitizer that schools can’t afford to supply.

In Chicago, approximately 80% of students enrolled in public schools are low-income, according to the Kids Count Data Center. Fortunately, charities like Back 2 School Illinois are helping to ease the financial strain. On Wednesday, August 9th, Back 2 School Illinois distributed nearly 14,000 free school supply kits to low-income students.

The Wednesday event, which happened at Broadway Armory Park, brought in over 400 students ages 6 to 12 for four hours of educational activities along with the giveaway. Chicago Public Schools’ start date is still nearly a month away (September 6th) but the activities were meant to prime the pump, getting school children excited to be back in the classroom. Also, they were planned far enough in advance that parents would not have already gone supply shopping.

The supply kits came packaged for four different age levels, based on consultation with area teachers. Kits for the youngest grades included crayons, markers, and construction paper. Kits for middle schoolers include math tools, binders, and college-ruled notebooks.

After the event, volunteers delivered thousands of kits to YMCA locations around Chicago, where parents can pick them up any time before September. Back 2 School Illinois hopes to deliver as many as 35,000 by the early months of the school year.

Providing Education for Refugees in Lebanon

A crowd of refugees. A young girl around the age of six holds a sign that reads, "SOS."

Photo credit: Alexandre Rotenberg / Shutterstock

Lebanon is a small country in the tense area between Palestine and Syria. It’s about twice the size of Long Island, NY, and one of the smallest non-island countries in the world.

It’s also host to over one million registered refugees from Syria, according to a 2016 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They assume this to be low of the actual number, due to constant arrivals, a slow registration process, and an overwhelmed infrastructure. Their estimate of the actual number is closer to a million and a half. That would mean that more than one in five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. And many of them are children.

Being a refugee is intensely disruptive to the life of a child. Many children that flee their home country never enter education again. Right now, over 200,000 Syrian children in Lebanon aren’t enrolled in school.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice, founded in 2016 by Amal and George Clooney, has partnered with international aid giant UNICEF to work on this issue. The foundation is donating $2.25 million dollars to seven public schools in Lebanon.

There’s already a system in Lebanon for providing education to refugees; schools operate in shifts, teaching local students in the morning, then refugees in the afternoons, doubling their capacity. The Clooney’s grant, boosted by a further $1 million from HP for educational technology, will add those seven schools to the pool that can extend their resources.

“Thousands of young Syrian refugees are at risk—the risk of never being a productive part of society,” the Clooneys said in press release on Monday, July 31st. “Formal education can help change that. That’s our goal with this initiative. We don’t want to lose an entire generation because they had the bad luck of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ted Mitchell Appointed New Head of ACE, Concerns Arise

A photo of a chalkboard with school supplies on the table.

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The American Council on Education (ACE) has announced its next leader will be Ted Mitchell.

Previously a top higher education official under the Obama administration’s Education Department, Mitchell will replace Molly Brand, the ACE’s first female leader, who is retiring after nine years in the position.

While some favor Mitchell’s appointment, others point out that he has a much more varied background than previous ACE leaders, who were generally high-powered college presidents. Mitchell’s resume, on the other hand, includes being president of Occidental College; a history professor; an administrator at the University of California, Los Angeles; and the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit known for its ties to the charter school movement.

That last position, as well as Mitchell’s support of for-profit colleges, has caused some disquiet amongst other educators. In addition, Mitchell was unsuccessful in implementing a White House program to create a federal ratings system for colleges tied to financial aid.

Still, he has a history of advocating for innovation in higher education, including encouraging the development of more options for students seeking financial aid. He’s said he wants to work against the current “narrative that college doesn’t matter anymore for individuals and society,” in part by supporting university research as a vital part of the community.

He also aims to advocate for making higher education more accessible for a broader range of students, particularly those who avoid it because they can’t afford to take on massive student debt.

As part of the Obama administration legacy, Mitchell is coming into power at a difficult time, with the House and Senate controlled by Republicans. Some question whether or not he’ll be able to get anything done even as head of one of the biggest education lobbying groups in the country.

Mitchell himself, however, has faith, noting that his priority has always been policy, not politics. “I’m not and never pretended to be a politician,” he said. “I’ve had good working relationships on both sides of the aisle.”

Mitchell will begin his new role starting September 1.

Taking the MFA to the Next Level

A young, female college student painting in a studio.

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Art school isn’t just about traditional visual art anymore. Increasingly, MFA programs and the resulting art pieces include multidisciplinary fields of study, whether it’s combining different artistic mediums into one piece or taking student design out into the community to make a difference.

Several prime examples come from the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), whose students recently exhibited their work on a three-part show divided into visual studies, print media, and collaborative design. In fact, most of the pieces featured mixed media. Angélica Maria Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs is made up of portraits of the artist’s aunt and grandmother, as well as smartphones mounted on the wall playing videos. Meanwhile, Aruni Dharmakirthi’s Fissures of the In-Between features triptychs, textiles, and movement through the physical space of the exhibit.

On the other side of the country, the School of Visual Arts in New York is ground zero for innovative productions like Aya Rodriguez-Izumi’s 121212. The piece uses video, performance, and installation to tell the story of a day in the life of Lynnese Page, focusing on her daily rituals.

But it’s not just a matter of mixed media. MFA programs themselves are expanding to include the broader study of how art impacts the community around it. PNCA’s MFA in Collaborative Design focuses on getting students out into the world to collaborate with businesses, government, and nonprofit organizations looking for design solutions.

Back at SVA, students can choose from both a traditional MFA in Fine Arts and an MFA in Art Practice, which its chairman, David Ross, describes as being for “artists working in more hybrid areas, incorporating a number of different media or selecting the particular medium based on what they are trying to accomplish at a given time.”

Even MIT, traditionally known more for tech than for art, is jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to this kind of innovation. Its Master of Science in Visual Studies program focuses on “the development of artistic practices that challenge traditional genres as well as the limits of the gallery/museum context.”

Other schools with offerings focusing on art and design in the community include the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, and the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art.

While studio art will always have its place, MFA programs are increasingly going beyond tradition to offer programs that contextualize art within the communities that need it. From mixed media productions to programs focusing on community engagement, it’s a brave new world when it comes to arts education.