Hands-on summer institute challenges students to blend tech, art

June 17, 2015

The assignment was simple enough, but the task would be daunting for most people: Take random household items and turn them into musical instruments.

Armed with a piece of paper, a pencil, wires, alligator clips and a "Makey Makey" kit, 15-year-old Spencer Pote created a graphite piano (similar to this) within 10 minutes and started composing music. group of students watching instructor construct small electronic instrument High school junior Angelina Longoria, from Flagstaff, checks the conductivity and sound as she begins constructing a small electronic piano at the ASU Digital Culture Summer Institute. Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News Download Full Image

“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” said Pote, who knows how to play percussion, piano and flute and will be a sophomore at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe. He is also a participant in the inaugural Digital Culture Summer Institute at ASU’s Tempe campus.

The three-week program, which began June 8, is sponsored through the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The summer institute challenges incoming high school freshmen through just-graduated seniors in a series of short, project-focused modules ranging from producing digital music to computational imaging to programming and projection mapping.

The institute blends artistic and technical skills and attempts to turn students' interests into a possible vocation, according to Loren Olsen, an assistant clinical professor at ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering who is also an instructor at the institute.

“We want to give students a taste of the many ways that computers are used in creative activity,” Olsen said. “They are really enthusiastic but some in very narrow ways. They’ve been exposed to animation in movies, video games and music, but we want to show them how it’s done so that maybe one day they might consider it as a career.”

Angelina Longoria, who traveled from northern Arizona to attend the institute, said she’s interested in pursuing a musical career. She already knows how to play the guitar but on June 16, she was able to expand her repoirtoire in a class called Experimental Musical Instruments.

“It’s the first time I have ever experimented with these sounds,” said Longoria, a junior at Coconino High School in Flagstaff. “I like how they are giving us free rein. Our only limit is our imagination.”

Sam Jones, who will be a junior at Mesa’s Heritage Academy, sat alongside Pote and Longoria for the Experimental Musical Instruments class. His passion is film; he said he has already edited about 20 short films. He enrolled in the institute to make him a better all-around filmmaker, and music plays an important role in mastering the craft.

“I made a silent movie about a year ago, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done because the music had to fit the beats of the film,” Jones said. “What I’ve found is that this institute is more than developing your skills; it’s about developing your own work ethic and discovering your creativity.”

In addition to Experimental Musical Instruments, other classes include How to Code, Interactive Media, Digital Fabrication, Video Production, Animation, Unity for Games, Projection Mapping and Computational Photography.

The Digital Culture Summer Institute runs through June 26.

Digital Culture Program 2015 - Tempe from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

Reporter , ASU Now


Scholarship grows from ASU alums' viral 'It Was Never a Dress' campaign

June 17, 2015

What does a creative disruptor do? She changes the way we look at the world – by taking something as mundane and universal as the sign on a women's bathroom and making it soar.

Arizona State University alum Tania Katan has been making international waves as the “curator of code” at Axosoft, a local software company, with a new campaign called “It Was Never a Dress.” woman's bathroom symbol changed to look like a superhero cape Is it a dress? Or is it a superhero cape? "If we see women differently, we see the world differently," said ASU alum Tania Katan, co-creator of the campaign, "It Was Never a Dress." Photo by: Courtesy of Axosoft Download Full Image

The campaign aims to shift societal perceptions about women through storytelling, community building, innovation and creative disruptions.

“If we see women differently, we see the world differently,” said Katan, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in theatre from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

The campaign began with Katan, colleague Sara Breeding and Axosoft CEO Lawdan Shojaee – also both ASU alumni – brainstorming ideas together. (Breeding earned a bachelor's in design studies from the Herberger Institute and a bachelor's in marketing from the W. P. Carey School of Business; Shojaee received a bachelor's in exercise and wellness from what is now the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, in ASU’s College of Health Solutions.)

“We wanted to make a really big splash at the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference (in April),” Shojaee said. “We did a couple of exercises. We played off cliches. Tania and Sara said, ‘We know what you want,’ and they took off ... A few hours later they said, ‘We’ve got something for you.’ The minute you heard it and absorbed it, you knew it was big. Tania sketched it out (and said), ‘Bam! Look at that!” And Sara said, “Oh my gosh, it was never a dress!”

“This campaign was a culmination of all the creative arts training that I’ve had, all the intervention ‘arts’ training,”  Katan said in an interview.

“It Was Never a Dress” went viral almost immediately, with coverage on BuzzFeed, The New York Times, CNN, The Huffington Post and Time, among others. The New York Times headline read, “’It Was Never A Dress Graphic’ goes bananas online.” And BuzzFeed proclaimed Katan would “change the way you look at signs for the women’s bathroom forever.”

With the campaign’s meteoric rise in popularity, Axosoft expanded “It Was Never a Dress” to allow people to share their own stories about what it means to change perceptions and assumptions.

Axosoft is selling “It Was Never a Dress” T-shirts and other merchandise and has announced that profits from sales will fund a scholarship in the Herberger Institute for a need-based student entering a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) field.

It was a natural fit.

“ASU has been really vocal about this bridge between science, technology, engineering, mathematics – and art,” Katan said.

“I hope these scholarships create the diversity and creativity that this state needs,” Shojaee said. “There are already pockets of it, but if an institution started pumping it out, that would create that bridge that engineers and artists need. They’re not different, artists and engineers. They’re very similar.”

Shojaee said that when she first hired Katan, based on her faith in Katan’s vision and creative abilities, she told Katan that programming is “like art – we just have a different medium that we paint on.”

Early on, she said, Katan went to a coding event and heard people talking about the code on the screens as beautiful.

“She came back,” Shojaee recalled, “and she said, ‘I get it.’ ”

To learn more about the “It Was Never a Dress” campaign, visit https://itwasneveradress.com.

Deborah Sussman

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