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CalArts wins grant for arts-and-technology program

The National Science Foundation hands the California Institute of the Arts money for its STEM program, which is designed to get undergraduate arts students up to speed with computer programming.

A member of the Karmetic Machine Orchestra, based at CalArts. Karmetic Machine Orchestra

With technology making itself all but unavoidable in an increasing number of areas, a special university program designed to get undergraduate art majors up to speed with computer science and programming has received a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) -- founded by Walt Disney in the early 1960s and now one of the nation's top art schools -- announced this week that it had received nearly $112,000 to put toward its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum.

"As artists increasingly employ technology, it is essential that arts institutions provide courses offering students the tools with which to conceptualize and generate new ideas, new artistic approaches, and potentially new technologies," CalArts President Steven D. Lavine said in a release.

The two-semester STEM program was designed by Ajay Kapur, associate dean of research and development in digital arts at CalArts, and Perry Cook, founder of the Princeton University Sound Lab and a permanent visiting lecturer at CalArts.

It's meant to bring the latest programming skills to hitherto nontechy students through creative projects designed to get them using the open-source programming languages ChucK and Processing.

"Every assignment is an artmaking assignment," Kapur said in the release. "We are teaching computer science principles through the arts. With each creative project, students build upon a growing repertoire of technical skills." The school sees the program as something that can serve as a model to other art schools.

CalArts is no stranger to technology. The school's Music Technology program engages students in custom software design and physical computing for human-computer interaction, among other things. The school is also home to a robotic orchestra. And CalArts' animation department includes alumni such as "Toy Story" director and Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and "Incredibles" and "Ratatouille" director Brad Bird.