Austin—At the University of Texas at Austin’s new Foundry, the art of science and the science of art are fused through technology.
The Foundry, which opened at the start of this school year, is based in UT’s College of Fine Arts, a seemingly atypical home for 3-D printers, a Roland 3-D mill machine, and a two-foot by three-foot laser cutter.
“We want to produce people who have had training and exposure to a wide variety of artistic pursuits in addition to disciplines like computer coding,” says David Hunter, interim head of the fine arts college’s library.
The Foundry, which is open to all UT students and faculty, comes along with a new degree program—the Bachelor of Science in Arts and Entertainment Technologies—at the fine arts college, which aims to equip fine arts students with cutting-edge tech skills. The degree has courses such as “Musical Acoustics” or “Foundations of Creative Coding.”
College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster said in a press release earlier this year that the goal is to enable students to “explore the creative and profitable intersections between culture, technology, and commerce.”
More universities are incorporating technology innovation across campus as a way to support a “cross-pollination” approach that brings together students in a variety of disciplines. The Foundry is a collaboration among the fine arts college and the UT Libraries.
It’s an approach the university is taking in a number of other academic disciplines as well. Three years ago, UT announced the creation of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy, a joint project with the UT’s colleges of communications, computer science, and fine arts. Hunter says at least one professor from that program will be teaching arts and entertainment technologies students. (After hosting two classes of students, the gaming academy itself is on hiatus this year, as UT administrators work on revamping the program.)
With the Foundry, UT is joining a growing number of other universities that have set up tech-driven skunkworks to complement more traditional lectures and classwork. They tend to be affiliated with business or engineering schools, but Hunter says it’s becoming more common for fine arts schools to more overly embrace tech tools, too.
“There’s always been an interest in technology,” he says. “The school of music has had a computer lab for decades. Theater and dance have sophisticated computer-driven lighting and sound programs. There just hasn’t been a good way of gathering those pieces into a single program.”
Stanford University has classes that combine art with science and technology called “Drawing with Code” and “Data as Material,” while Northwestern University’s Garage features an interdisciplinary accelerator space with tech tools at students’ disposal. At the University of Washington, a maker space is part of a campus-wide push toward innovation and entrepreneurship education.
Students, Hunter says, are driving the demand. “We’re getting the push from the bottom up,” he says.
With the first semester of both the Foundry and the new degree program almost complete, administrators are working on bringing in startup founders and investors to serve as student mentors and guest lecturers.
“Most think of the library in a traditional way, everyone goes around shushing everyone,” Hunter says. “One of the things that we are moving away from is that stereotype.”