Heffner sees the marriage of arts and technology as both creative and valuable. “A lot of scientists say they’re enthralled with their work because there’s a beauty to it. Mathematicians say there’s a beauty to their work. Carrying that to the next step with the arts is a natural extension. DreamWorks [the Hollywood studio] is one of the most successful mergers of arts and technology and shows what’s possible,” he says. “EMPAC will have a long-term effect on the future of Rensselaer and will change lives.”
With EMPAC, Rensselaer also is supporting its long tradition of excellence in electronic arts. Rensselaer was one of the first universities in the world to develop and offer students a program in the electronic arts, now taught in numerous universities worldwide.
Begun in 1985, the integrated electronic arts program at Rensselaer (iEAR) offered students total interdisciplinary integration, a curriculum that continuously evolved to reflect technological advances, and a faculty made up of active artists with interactive portfolios.
In 2007, Rensselaer became one of the first universities in the nation to establish a Ph.D. in electronic arts. This year, the already established master of fine arts program was ranked sixth in the nation by U.S.News & World Report.
Students and faculty in Rensselaer’s electronic arts program have been producing volumes of work, and there has been limited space on the campus dedicated to large performances and gatherings. EMPAC will clearly address all of these needs and desires and more.
Building the Future
The launch of EMPAC was made possible through a landmark gift to Rensselaer in 2001. In order to enable the implementation of The Rensselaer Plan and to set the stage for the $1.4 billion capital campaign, President Jackson worked with a donor, who has wished to remain anonymous, on a $360 million contribution, which at that time was the largest gift ever received by a college or university. The historic gift, combined with other resources, enabled Rensselaer to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new infrastructure, including EMPAC, the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Computational Center for Nano-technology Innovations (CCNI), three signature facilities that would signal the emergence of the Institute as an academic and research leader in the 21st century.
Armed with extensive international experience in the highest levels of technology and the arts, Goebel arrived in Troy in 2002 to help oversee the design of the EMPAC building, and to launch its program. Since 1990, he had been the founding director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, having been deeply involved in the specification, design, and construction of ZKM’s new center for more than eight years. A trained musician and composer, Goebel was at the forefront of bringing digital technology to the German music scene in the 1980s. For a short period during the 1990s, while still at ZKM, he helped out by co-directing Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, where he had been a visiting composer since the late ’70s.