A GitHub for Tech-Friendly Artists? Kadenze Debuts As Arts Edtech Site

[Corrected 6/17/15, 1:04 pm. See below.] Stanford University and two California art schools are part of an international consortium of 16 academic institutions partnering with edtech startup Kadenze, which today launched an online creative arts education site that offers both free and fee-based courses that span visual art, music, and technology.

Art and music have been converging with technology for decades, but Kadenze co-founder Perry Cook says existing online education courses haven’t served tech-oriented artists well. Most edtech sites are geared toward teaching math, business, and programming, he says, while Kadenze aims to create an inspiring environment for artists who manipulate sound, music, video, and digital images.

“Our mission, designs, and execution from the ground up are focused on the user experience, beauty and elegance of design, functions and facility that support multi-media uploads, grading, sharing,” and other features, Cook told me in an e-mail exchange. The Kadenze founders are artists and designers as well as engineers and programmers, he says.

Cook, a Stanford-trained PhD in engineering and an emeritus professor of computer science and music at Princeton University, will teach one of Kadenze’s first 21 courses: “An Introduction to Physics-based Digital Audio Synthesis and Signal Processing.”

The founder of the Princeton Sound Lab, Cook is also an advisor to think tank Karmetik, a group of hardware and software researchers that created Karmetik’s Machine Orchestra with robotic musical instruments.

Cook and his former student at Princeton, Ajay Kapur, founded Kadenze in 2013 along with Jordan Hochenbaum, Owen Vallis, and Ashok Ahuja—other experts who straddle the boundaries between art and technology. Kadenze now has nearly 40 employees based in San Francisco; Valencia, CA; and other locations. The startup is keeping mum about its funding sources for now.

Part of the Kadenze mission is to lower the “crippling financial barriers” for students who want to learn how to combine technology with artistic expression, Kadenze’s CEO Kapur said in a statement about the company’s launch.

As of today, the public can enroll free in any of Kadenze’s early course offerings, watch the lecture videos, and take part in discussion forums. A premium membership costing $7 a month adds other features. Students can submit their work for grades and feedback, collaborate on projects, sign up to take courses for college credit, showcase their portfolio of work, and post their resumes.

One for-credit course already offered is “Intro to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists,” taught by Kapur through California Institute of the Arts. Four courses are currently live on the site, with two more to follow on sound production and concert technology in July. Ten others are in the works from institutions including Princeton, UCLA, California College of the Arts, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Goldsmiths University of London, Cornish College of the Arts, and the National University of Singapore.

Fees for Kadenze’s for-credit courses, which depend on the number of units, are $300, $600, or $900. Kadenze will share revenues with both the schools and the instructors, but the company declined to say more about the percentages each will earn.

So far, the for-credit courses are only recognized for academic credit at the individual schools that offer them via Kadenze, such as California Institute of the Arts. Also, taking one of the online courses from a Kadenze partner school such as California Institute of the Arts doesn’t guarantee the student admission to a degree program at that school. [An earlier version of this paragraph used Stanford as an example rather than California Institute of the Arts. Stanford has not yet offered courses for credit through Kadenze, and may not do so in the future.]

The partner schools are free to accept transfer credits from another school’s Kadenze course, at their own discretion. Kadenze leaders hope that their partner institutions will embrace credit-swapping in the future. Kadenze plans to expand its course catalog by inviting other schools and instructors to add their courses to the site.

Even if a student doesn’t earn a degree, Kadenze sees itself as a potential hub where students can display their completed projects and other accomplishments to employers and academic institutions where they might apply. Computer programmers already use such a site, GitHub, to flaunt their coding prowess and attract job offers.

“Kadenze offers students the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest in arts­-focused education,” Cook said in a statement about the launch. “We view ourselves as a bridge, and our goal is to connect students and institutions in a way that elevates everyone.”

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