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Arts department chair Kathy High was drawn to Rensselaer by the opportunity to connect art with the world beyond it. For more than 20 years she has done just that, through documentaries, experimental videos, sculptures, and multimedia installations shown around the world. High’s work also has put the spotlight on social issues related to women’s health, medical ethics, and advances in science and technology.
“I love teaching art, but for me it’s more fulfilling to teach the discipline at a university where it’s not the only subject students are studying,” says High. “I wanted to teach at a university that had educational focuses stretching far beyond the arts, allowing me to extract pieces of the research, the scientific, the technical world and incorporate them into my art world. The strength of the engineering and science programs really attracted me to Rensselaer.”
Currently High is finalizing the department’s new Ph.D. program in electronic arts. “Everybody’s really ready for it,” she says. “We’d like to admit our first students by fall 2006.”
Also under way is the implementation of an international exchange program. High expects to establish a visual arts student and faculty exchange program with the Hong Kong Arts Center and the City University of Hong Kong, and an electronic music exchange program with the Central Conservatory of Music and Peking University in Beijing.
In the future, High would like to develop a “Living Art Center” at Rensselaer, which would collaborate with the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies on projects bridging the arts and sciences. She envisions the center as a public venue that integrates science and technology into the arts to increase awareness and understanding of biotechnology and other science and technology-based disciplines. Similar centers exist in other countries, but are relatively uncommon in the United States, according to High.
“I see the Living Art Center as a place where people all people, not just scientists can feel involved and participate in the advances made in biotechnology,” says High. “Science advances extremely quickly. Art gives people the opportunity to stop and look at both the risks and the rewards of these advances.”
The growing arts department is based in the renovated West Hall, part of the envisioned “arts corridor” along Eighth Street that will include the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) when it opens in 2008.
“I see EMPAC as an invaluable resource for our arts department and for our students,” High says. “I think the international connection that EMPAC will bring to Rensselaer is only going to enhance our students’ educational experience it’s going to be a great resource for them.”
High is active in the arts scene beyond campus as founder and editor of FELIX: A Journal of Media Arts and Communication, a publication geared toward alternative film and video makers that she started in 1991. The newest volume of FELIX, a print publication and DVD titled Tools: Analogues and Intersections, will focus on the intersections between early video art and new media art practices. A curated festival of “old” and new media works will be held at Rensselaer in the spring of 2007, to celebrate its release.
High credits her fellow professors for the increased prominence of the program. “The faculty each one of them brings their unique strengths to our department and to our students,” she says. “They are the foundation of the arts program; I am simply building on top of that foundation.”
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