CAAD encourages interdisciplinary studies

The Creative Arts Across Disciplines (CAAD) Initiative attempts to break new ground in a field known for innovation. The program takes the form of a three-year program funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation emphasizing programming and events encouraging the insertion of the arts into fields that might not regularly deal with art, as well as intra-art collaboration. The CAAD Initiative focuses on four primary areas: curricular development, guest artists, pedagogy workshops for faculty and preliminary work for summer workshops similar to URSI and Ford but with a focus on the arts.

Each year of the program will take on a different theme, this year’s being vision, with sound to follow in 2015-16, and touch to cap it off in 2016-17. The themes give the programming some cohesion while being broad enough that they aren’t limiting. One upcoming Vision-related event is the visit of John Jennings and Damian Duffy, a team of graphic novelists whose work often deals with underrepresentation of African Americans in comic books and graphic novels. Ariel Nereson, Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator and overseer of the CAAD initiative, explained that part of the purpose of the initiative is to make the presentations and acitivities provided by visiting artists more multifaceted and participatory. “We’re trying to imagine what these guest artists’ visits can look like so there is maximum engagement with students,” she said in an interview. Jennings and Duffy’s visit won’t just consist of a lecture, but a whole series of programming including workshops with the comics course, a public lecture, and other classroom visits. Additionally, their work will be on display in the project gallery of the Loeb prior to their arrival to introduce it to the community and create excitement for their visit.

While there are plenty of exciting events and visits from the CAAD Initiative to come, they’re currently doing work in the classroom. Nereson has been collaborating with Visiting Assistant Professor of Education Christine Malsberry’s education class, using creativity to rethink how data is communicated to the audience. The specific project Malsberry is contributing to, a linguistics study, examines “ethnographic methods of data collection but creative arts methods of narrating that data.”

The final product will incorporate three components: soundscapes, exhibition boxes, and visual maps that describe the use of language in this geographical area. The overarching goal for the collaboration is “[to use] the arts in tandem with another methodology to strengthen the whole project,” said Nereson. She emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration when it comes to reaching people.

Nereson and the CAAD committee are currently deciding upon course development for the 2015-2016 school year to continue bringing the arts into the classroom where their presence can make a difference.

2014-15 is officially the first academic year of the CAAD Initiative, but preliminary programming already began this past summer. Physics in the Modern School: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Adapting Physics Simulations for Various Curricula, was a project funded by URSI, but is viewed as a pilot program for CAAD as well. “[Associate Professor of Art and Art department chair Peter Charlap’s graphic design students and Professor of Physics Cindy Schwarz’s physics students worked together on a] collaboration designed to revise visual models of physics properties and formulas for text books that also have a significant digital component [such as a CD-ROM],” explained Nereson. The project was presented Oct. 1 at the URSI Symposium and the program will be used as a model for future summer programming. In consideration of the great success of the physics-graphic design collaboration, Nereson stresses that the grant is intended for experimentation. She says she chose to describe the initiative as a laboratory, adding, “we may do things with this grant that aren’t fabulous huge successes because we’re trying something new.  I wanted to describe it with language that encouraged people to take risks and not to be afraid of failing because in every creative endeavor failure is part of the picture.” Nereson also acknowledges that Vassar can be an incredibly high-pressure environment and hopes for the grant to alleviate some of that pressure. “

While Nereson is the primary overseer the CAAD grant, many people contribute to the initiative including a committee and students that are helping to create an audience for the grant through social media. Taylor Nunley ‘16 and Sofia Benitez ‘16 are both CAAD student assistants. Their main duty is, “being on top of what’s happening on campus art-wise and spreading [the] word,” said Benitez. One way that CAAD spreads the word and promotes creativity in general is through their blog, where they post podcasts, “Creativity Breadcrumbs” (short posts intended to inspire people to think creatively), and other arts-related material. Both students became involved in the initiative because of their interest in the arts and firmly believe in the mission of the grant.

“At Vassar there’s a really strong emphasis on the liberal arts, but the interdisciplinary portion seems to be lacking even though it’s something I see fitting in really well at Vassar,”  Nunley said. “I think the initiative will help make it more prevalent and seem less weird to be interested in two different subjects, to make it more common and something that people will latch onto.” Benitez agrees. and, as she noted, “Creativity is something that’s in people and even if they don’t pursue it directly through this initiative we can bring it to more of the campus.”

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