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World-famous dance legend bringing her talents to ASU.
Liz Lerman, dancer extraordinaire, ready to move ASU students.
January 7, 2016

Dance Exchange founder and MacArthur fellow to teach, launch Ensemble Lab

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

Liz Lerman — choreographer, author, educator and 2002 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship recipient — will join the faculty of Arizona State University at the beginning of the spring semester.

Widely recognized as an important influence in the worlds of dance, arts-based community engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration, Lerman will assume a unique position as Institute Professor to lead programs and courses that span disciplines within and beyond ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“When I arrived at ASU, President Crow challenged me to recruit a leading artist and public intellectual to the Institute. I wanted to bring to ASU someone who has transformed how artists work in the world — whose life’s work is a testimony to everything we believe the Herberger Institute stands for — artistry and scholarship that is fully engaged in public life and open to new techniques, new partners and new spaces for creative work. I immediately thought of Liz — perhaps the most creative, generative and generous artist working in America,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.   

“My appointment here, as much as it’s about the art, it’s also about the university itself and its interest right now in multidisciplinary practice and its relationship to the community on the whole,” said Lerman, citing her enthusiasm for Tepper’s vision that design and the arts are critical resources for transforming society at every level. “This is an incredible opportunity to leverage the talent of this great university to advance what has always been for me the intersection of artistic practice for the stage with broader civic purposes.”

As a young artist based in Washington, D.C., Lerman (shown in the top photo by Lise Metzger) founded the Dance Exchange in 1976. She cultivated its multigenerational ensemble into a leading influence in contemporary dance until 2011, when she began an independent phase of her career, including a recent residency at Harvard University.

Working with collaborators from fields as diverse as genomics, to religion, to physics, her work has won critical and scholarly attention and has included an examination of human-rights law commissioned for the Harvard Law School; a dance about origins launched in the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and later performed at ASU Gammage; nine short performances about the defense budget; and innovative residencies and collaborations that span nursing homes and medical schools to the National Academy of Sciences and the London Dance Umbrella.

Her Shipyard Project engaged hundreds of local citizens to reflect on the historic and controversial shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and was one of many community-based endeavors in which she demonstrated the role of art in fostering civic dialogue and promoting social capital.

Recently, Lerman debuted "Healing Wars," a theatrical dance about the role of healers tasked with treating the physical and psychological trauma of war.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘What makes something good at a children’s hospital? What makes it good when it’s on stage? What makes it good in whatever environment you’re in?’ ” asked Lerman. “There’s permeability between studio art and community art. Sometimes you’re in both worlds. That seems to me more true of how life is.”

At ASU’s Herberger Institute, Lerman will create a cooperative of artists, researchers and civic leaders in a lab-like environment to experiment with methods and techniques for broad social impact. Working across disciplinary lines and schools, her Ensemble Lab will examine the role of artists in society, expand artists’ professional opportunities, and prepare artists to be both imaginative innovators and civic partners.

Lerman will integrate her widely recognized Critical Response Process — a four-step system for giving and receiving feedback on artistic works in progress — into “Animating Research,” a course she will teach during her inaugural semester. The course will link Herberger Institute students to an array of ASU research projects in ways that will enable artists to refine their personal voice while also translating ideas, statistics and other research into new forms.

“When we think about the role of the artist in society, a central theme of Liz’s work at ASU will focus on equity, inclusion and the need to embrace and advance all creative voices in America,” Tepper said. “Liz’s Ensemble Lab will allow us to experiment and reinvent the 21st-century design and arts school so that we are tapping into and helping to advance the creativity inherent in our diverse culture and society.” 

“ASU is giving me a platform to extend my artistic explorations and a chance to work alongside great faculty and students, all of us embarked on the mission of expanding the role of artists in society,” Lerman said. “Personal expression matters: It has been the central focus of the arts in the 20th century. But now it’s important to take the skills and priorities developed through the arts into the wider world. The Herberger Institute has already embarked on that work. I am excited to be a part of advancing it into the future.”

Top photo by Lise Metzger; video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Beth Giudicessi

Senior director of communications, ASU Enterprise Partners

480-727-7402

 
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ASU's first digital culture grads feel comfortable in ever-changing world.
What's an ASU digital culture degree? A license to succeed.
January 7, 2016

First batch of program's undergrads launch into the world having learned how to adapt

Four years ago, ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering launched the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Culture program, one of the first proficiency-based digital media degrees in the United States.

The digital culture undergraduate degree, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is housed in a facility that gives students access to cutting-edge tools and technology. The innovative program is a collaboration among not only the schools in the Herberger Institute — Art; Arts, Media and Engineering; Design; Film, Dance and Theatre; and Music — but also numerous partnering academic units across ASU, from electrical engineering, journalism and mass communications to computer science, education and human evolution and social change.

So how are the first, newly minted digital culture alums doing?

If Elizabeth Vegh is any indication, they’re doing very well.

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Vegh (pictured left) graduated from ASU last year as a digital culture major specializing in art and almost immediately landed a job as a graphic designer for CBS 5 News in Phoenix.

“I never took any graphic design courses (in college),” Vegh said, “but I had developed my skills with timing and storytelling (for animation), which my supervisor later told me is what put me ahead of the other applicants. I also had a lot of chances to go over how to create the best pitch and portfolio possible. I don't think I would have been as successful with my current line of work without that practice.”

Sha Xin Wei, director of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, said Vegh’s success is one example of the digital culture program’s many achievements.

“We are creating experience entrepreneurs,” Sha said. “Students are learning to use digital technology to create, customize and enrich the way we experience the world. Many argue that we are living in an ‘experience economy’ and that companies that can create compelling experiences will thrive. We are preparing graduates to drive this new economy.”

The big question students hear, according to Sha and the students themselves, is, “What is digital culture?” Sha said part of the answer comes from the students themselves, and from the projects they’re working on with faculty. Through the program, students are able to define the paths they take, both at ASU and beyond.

“Whenever I get asked about digital culture, the first description that comes to mind is ‘art fused with technology,’ " said Vegh, who started out in film and then switched to digital culture because of her interest in animation. “To me, it's all about how to use both mediums to create some sort of experience for the public, whether if it's for research or entertainment purposes.”

While in college, Vegh, who graduated in May 2014, worked with ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination as its videographer, editor and events specialist. Working closely with Ed Finn, the center’s director and an arts, media and engineering faculty member, she went on to create podcasts, posters and animations that have been featured in the online magazine Slate, Future Tense and Valley TV affiliates.

“Digital culture gave me a lot of experience pitching ideas for an audience and networking with really important figures in both the science and entertainment industry,” Vegh said. “I also had access to a lot of technology and programs that I wouldn't have had access to without being in the digital culture program.”

Man with a beard.

Matthew Briggs began his career at ASU studying business but segued to a digital culture degree program at the urging of his adviser. Courtesy photos.

 

Matthew Briggs’ current line of work grew directly out of his experience as a digital culture major, but he started out even farther outside the field than Vegh did. He was in the business school, thinking about going into accounting, when he realized that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Based on his interests, including music and digital technology, his adviser suggested he check out “this new program that just came online” — digital culture.

Briggs said it was a perfect fit.

“I didn’t have a goal to be a specific job type or position. I was just interested in gaining some skills and knowledge and exposure,” he said. “That exploration aspect of digital culture was really key for me.”

After graduating in May 2015, he ended up with a double major in digital culture, with a focus on design, and graphic information technology, as well as a double minor in film and media production and music. Today he works as a specialist in ASU’s digital culture fabrication lab, a job the multimedia artist discovered as a student. 

Briggs said that the faculty in the digital culture program prepare students for life after college “in the most important way” — by teaching them how to become resourceful.

“They give you principles and theories and skills,” Briggs said. “They teach you the tools, too, but it really helps you gain that mentality of how to find and learn and become fluent in these technologies, tools and techniques. Because the industry will change, but your ability to change with it doesn’t. You’re a lot more adaptable, I think. You learn how to learn.”

Data shows that students who take at least one creative class are more likely to succeed, and that creative thinking is highly sought after by employers. Moheeb Zara, who took numerous digital culture classes while he was a student at ASU, was recently awarded a Top Innovator award at the 2015 Intel Innovation Summit for his work with Octoblu, an “Internet of Everything” company that runs on Intel’s platforms and whose ambitious mission is “to connect anything with everything.” A co-founder of the Southwest Maker Festival, Zara describes himself as a hardware hacker, an activist, a maker, an artist, a robotics mentor, a technological dilettante and a promoter of science education, among other things.

Learning how to learn is what the Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute, calls “a core 21st-century competency.”

“For most college graduates these days, the future of work is unpredictable, non-linear and constantly evolving,” Tepper said. “In fact, a recent study found that almost half of the current occupations probably won’t exist in the next few decades. A program such as digital culture allows our faculty, students and graduates to help invent the jobs and the businesses of the future, and to come up with new platforms and technology for the exchange of culture and the enrichment of the human experience.”

Plus, alums like Vegh and Briggs say it’s a lot more interesting and rewarding than what they were doing before they entered the world of digital culture.

To learn more about the program, visit the Digital Culture website (http://digitalculture.asu.edu) or come in person to the Digital Culture Showcase, which takes place the first Friday of May and December every year and is free and open to the public.

Deborah Sussman Susser

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

480-965-0478