New Center For Emerging Media Arts At UNL Dedication This Weekend

New Center for Emerging Media Arts building at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (Photo by Craig Chandler, University Communication)
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November 12, 2019 - 6:45am

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts will be dedicated Friday, November 15 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A $20 million gift from the Johnny Carson Foundation in 2015 helped create new the program and facility.


Brandon McDermott, NET News: When you were hired in 2016, you said working as the founding director of the Johnny Carson center was the culmination of your career. Three years later, do you still feel that way?

Megan Elliott, Director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts: Absolutely. It's a living the dream, they say. It's a really exciting opportunity and I can't believe that actually on the weekend about dedication that will be three years since I actually accepted the role. In that time, we've developed a brand new Bachelor of Fine Arts in emerging Media Arts, we've programmed and built a building and welcomed our first cohort of students. It's phenomenal.

The New Economy panel November 15th at 11:45 a.m. will be led by Nebraska native Preeta Bansal, the panel will include:

Kyle Murphy, vice president of People and Corporate Communication at Hudl and founder of Nebraska VX

Ross Warren, founder-in-residence at Google’s experimental Area 120 and technology adviser for HRH Princess Eugenie of York’s The Anti-Slavery Collective

Jeff Nicholas, vice president of Creative and Innovation at Live Nation Entertainment Company

Erica Larsen-Dockray, a media artist, educator and activist who co-founded the Calibraska Arts Initiative

Clint! Runge, co-founder and managing director of Archrival marketing agency.

McDermott: Tell us about the dedication weekend. What's all going into that?

Elliott: It starts on Friday, November the 15th, where we have invited some of our advisory council members as well as obviously the Johnny Carson Foundation and HP to come and have a conversation around all things emerging Media Arts, all things the future of work and the future of the economy. What I'm really excited about is actually a panel that we're having at 11:45 a.m. which features six of our advisory council members. It's going to be moderated by Preeta Bansal, who has returned to Lincoln after being a senior counsel to the Obama administration, as well as Counsel of HSBC.

On that panel, they will all be speaking about the new economy, the new kinds of tech jobs, what that looks like, what that means for creatives, how technology and the arts will intersect in this new economy. I think that's really exciting, particularly, as it comes right on the back of the announcement of the Nebraska tech collaborative, which Mike Dunlap from NelNet is heading up.

McDermott: When it comes to arts, entertainment and the media, what is the future for the industries and jobs within them?

Elliott: What we do know is that the most important thing for young people today is to learn how to learn to be lifelong learners and to be able to frame and reframe problems, because they are the problem solvers of the next generation. We're super excited about all things happening in terms of emerging Media Arts. When I say emerging media, I mean technology and media.

So we exist right at the nexus between technology and creativity and right on the cusp of the future. And I think when we were designing this program, we designed it within the context that we now live in a generation of intelligent machines. So what does that mean for our students both in terms of the kinds of tools they'll be using to create stories and create content and also the kinds of jobs they're going to be having?

McDermott: So you've kind of alluded to this already in this last answer, but talk about the program with the Carson Center and how it's going to help students not only thrive but be cutting edge in their prospective fields.

Elliott: When we designed a program, we did it with thinking that the full new cognitive capacities that students need to be able to have in the 21st century is critical thinking, systems thinking, entrepreneurship and cultural agility. And we map those in our programs to develop a foundation based on those four things.

So students learn how to code, they learn how to think in systems. Students learn how to design, students learn how to tell great stories and students learn how to be entrepreneurs. So our whole goal for our program is for our students to be able to either realize the job of their dreams or raise money to start the company of their dreams straight out of school.

McDermott: You brought up storytelling and storytelling is one of those tools that we as a species have had for thousands of years, from pictures on the cave walls to stories around the fire. Technology has changed, but has the tool of storytelling, and how can it be used going forward?

Elliott: Storytelling is really meaning making. It's how we make meaning in the world. I think that some things have changed with some of our new emerging media technologies like virtual reality, for example, or advanced game engines which we use to create games or virtual reality experiences. Is it some of them all about the human agency so that you're not being directed. It's about how you move through the world. I think that's really new. I think what's exciting about emerging Media Arts is not just the kinds of stories that we can tell, but we can tell stories that have never been told.

McDermott: Here's a quote from you; "You don't walk blindly into the future. You imagine it and build it." What have you and your team imagined with this launch and what are you hoping to build?

Elliott: It's a great question. We've imagined that we could become the premier destination for what I like to call the pirates, wizards and magicians of the world: our students. We are the premier destination internationally, I think we have created a place where radical imaginations and re-imaginings can occur.

We have created a center which is truly interdisciplinary. So we welcome our colleagues from across the disciplines from agriculture, from engineering, from architecture, to come and play with us. Already, our two new professors have been accepted into the research fellows development program at UNL, which is the very first for our college. So we have a very ambitious creative research agenda.

McDermott: You call Nebraska's curriculum and facilities unmatched in the nation, a premier destination internationally. What helps you now stay cutting edge?

Elliott: Its openness, its commitment to excellence. I think something that was identified by the consultants who were actually when they were first looking at UNL to be the recipient of this very large gift, is that actually we don't have silos. I think it's very easy to move through disciplines to meet people to collaborate together to say, ‘How can I help?’ That seems to be the ethos of Nebraska. That's something that I find really exciting.

So after our students develop a foundation in computer coding, design, storytelling and entrepreneurship, they can then select two or even three of eight emphasis that we've identified in the emerging Media Arts. Those emphasis include experience design, immersive and interactive media. So VR, for example, Cinematic Arts, Sensory Media, that's physical computing, so working with robotics or wearable technologies, Virtual Production, which could be animation, gaming, Sonic Arts, so sound arts and it's really interesting because sound is having an absolute renaissance in terms of emerging media, as we think about how do we direct the gaze, how do we get people to interact with our material story.

So being able to write stories across every platform – both now and emerging – a great example that one of our advisory council members gave me was like a test for students is how does a divorce play out on Twitter? You know, what's that story? And also data and art because one thing that we do know, we say data is the new world. We're only ever going to be having more and more data. So how do we tell the stories of that data? How do we make meaning out of it?

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