Artists enter the engineering lab

Painters, sculptors, musicians and choreographers may soon find a home in engineering labs across the country as they create a new image of how technology research and development work is conducted.

The Canada Council for the Arts

(CCA) and the National Research Council of Canada (NCR) Monday launched an artists in residence program similar to models found in universities and other academic institutions. The partners hope to choose two artists by the end of the year who will be matched with staff at a couple of the NRC’s 17 research institutes to collaborate on joint projects. The two-year pilot program will offer artists a $75,000 per year grant. Application forms are expected to be available through the CCA site by the end of the month.

Katherine Watson, producer of the Artists in Residence program at the CCA, said artists will follow up their applications with a visit to various NRC institutions where they will present their work and explain how it fits in with fields of research.

“”We’re not looking at dropping an artist in cold,”” she said. “”We will ensure the artist is coming in as an equal player in the arena. We’re looking at the research background of that artist in the development of their work and how that has an impact on the research in the NRC. They come in with another perspective.””

Dr. Peter Hackett, vice-president of research at the NRC, said he is looking forward to the results.

“”I think they’ll add a lot to what we do,”” he said. “”What I’m hoping to achieve is having researchers in our labs that are freer, less constrained, more willing to jump in and try things . . . if new art is created out of that, that’s a bonus.””

The program was conceived two years ago when the CCA and NRC partnered with the National Arts Centre to host a conference called Creativity 2000. Watson said that while new media artists would be obvious candidates, the program is open to creators in any discipline.

She said she has already heard from choreographers or movement-based artists, for example, who are looking at applicaitons of how the body moves in space. “”That could be translated into other things — there have been artists talking about films that have been shot in a large wave tank at the Institute for Marine Dynamics in St. John’s. You could take that further into how human beings move in the water.””

The signing of the agreement coincided with Leonardo da Vinci 550th birthday — a symbol of the sort of multitasking Renaissance thinker the CCA and NRC would like to encourage.

“”We’re not interested in the artist receiving the fellowship and moving quietly into a lab in an institute and two years later not hearing much about it,”” Watson said. “”The desire is to open up the thinking everywhere — the scientists and engineers are extremely creative. You’re opening those windows up as well and everyone is working outside of their box a little bit.””

The NRC actually has some pedigree with the artistic community. Five years ago the agency won an Oscar from Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for computer animation technology some of its engineers developed called “”key frame,”” which was used in a National Firm Board of Canada short called Hunger/La Faim in 1974. This was the first animated film to win the Jury Prize at France’s Cannes Film Festival.

“”In the 90’s we focused on deficit,”” said Hackett. “”We screwed everything tightly down. In fact, we got overly concerned with deliverables. We should be concerned with that, but we took our eye off the long-term investments.””

Watson agreed. “”(Harsh economic times) are also the times when heads of agencies look at creative responses,”” she said. “”Perhaps at the end of the day, in a small way you open the door to address some of those other issues.””

The CCA and NRC said they would review the program after the two-year pilot to determine whether it would be expanded to include more artists.

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