November 5, 2001

Interdisciplinary institute explores creative potential of technology
By Rebecca Ayer

In the arts, the individual artist is often held up as a model of singular genius. Yet an interdisciplinary institute currently in the UGA’s ICE Web site works at the university might change all that, creating a collaborative model for teaching that will open new territory for students and faculty interested in exploring the creative potential of technology.

On Oct. 31, the steering committee for the Institute for Creative Exploration launched its first official collaborative project merging technology and the arts–the ICE Web site. “The Web seemed an ideal place to start,” says Mark Callahan, project coordinator for the Web site. “The establishment of a Web site would give it a virtual presence and would provide neutral space for ICE artists to meet on collaborative projects.”

The ICE Web site, developed by an eight-member group of faculty, students, alumni and local artists, will house information about ICE and the ICE Summit and serve as the home for a group of Web-based projects.

ICE’s current Web projects–called Human Broadcast, Living Room, Narrative Generator and Hand-Off–track the creative process as individual artists respond to a work in turn or collectively. These projects, along with the site’s animations, interactive text and virtual zones, call for outside participation, allowing the site to continually reinvent itself as the institute’s new collaborative culture emerges.

“I’m a word person and don’t have the technical training that others working on the site do,” says Brian Henry, a local poet and professor in the English department’s creative writing program who worked on the site’s Narrative Generator project, “but everyone contributed to the initial ideas. It was exhilarating. I saw where I could fit in.”

With these invitational Web-based projects, ICE hopes to reach out to artists worldwide. This idea is as “cutting-edge” as the technology involved in creating it.

“The beauty of the site is that that it’s dynamic. It invites new collaboration,” says Tara Rebelet, a local performance artist and Living Room collaborator. “But it’s also very focused on the humanity behind the art. It reminds people that there is a real artist making real art in real time.” Carmon Colangelo, director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art, had been interested in an interdisciplinary research environment for the arts since the beginning of his tenure at the university in 1997. He was familiar with the Center for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University and its studio for collaborative projects between the arts and sciences and felt that such a program would be a perfect fit for a research institution such as UGA.

“The University of Georgia is a prime site for this type of institute,” he says. “It’s at a point where it can compete for some of the best faculty and, as one of its initiatives, it’s hoping to build its graduate program.”

The ICE steering committee sponsored its first summit, Ideas for Creative Exploration, in April 2001 with funding from the provost’s office and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Although the summit provided an opportunity to showcase collaborations already taking place, central to the event was its series of roundtable discussions.

These panels brought together individuals, both nationally and internationally, to discuss the ideas behind interdisciplinary collaborations and just how ICE might be able to facilitate them. John Moores University in Liverpool and the Kitchen in New York have displayed interest in collaborating with ICE in the future.

“Collaborative projects have been happening on campus for the past decade, but they’ve gotten lost in the noise,” says drama professor David Z. Saltz, head of ICE’s projects committee. “One reason for ICE is to help draw attention to what is going on here.”

More than 20 faculty and students from various departments–art, drama, music, dance and creative writing–have been involved in the ICE planning process so far.

Dance department head Bala Sarasvati and the Core Concert Dance Company worked with various ICE members on an interdisciplinary piece melding interactive technology, animation and marine science this past spring. “I’m very excited about ICE,” Sarasvati says. “It will allow people to branch out and explore, expose students to other areas and allow them to share perspectives and make connections out in the professional world.”