USM Art Department

Local High School Students to Build Interactive Sculptures Through SidexSide and University of Southern Maine’s “ARTronics” Project

December 23, 2013

PORTLAND, Maine – A group of local high-school students will mix art and electronics for two weeks in January and April in a unique collaborative project titled “ARTronics,” designed to show how art and technology can be integrated.

Thirty-two students at Casco Bay High School, working with SidexSide, a Portland educational non-profit, professors from the University of Southern Maine’s (USM) computer science and visual arts departments, and SidexSide’s engineering expert, will create interactive sculptures that respond to cues from the surrounding environment.

The project will require the students to conduct fieldwork at USM’s CI2 (Creative Intelligence, Innovation, Collaboration) Lab and to work with computer-integrated electronic platforms. The students will learn how to program and build interactive sculptures.

“USM's art education program works to reinforce the fact that the arts not only intersect with content areas such as science and technology, but also are a necessary component in creating K-12 [kindergarten-grade 12] curricula that is relevant, critical, and comprehensive for today's students,” said Kelly Hrenko, USM assistant professor of art education overseeing interns involved in the project. “This project – ARTronics – does just that!”

“SidexSide’s ARTronics project and our collaboration with USM encapsulates the essence of our mission and is a fantastic way to kick off our pilot year,” said Beth Wilbur Van Mierlo, one of SidexSide’s creators.

“Casco Bay High School is thrilled to be able to partner with SidexSide and USM on this innovative new course,” said Derek Pierce, Casco Bay High School principal. “It will provide a rich and distinct opportunity for our students to think and act as both scientists and artists while working alongside talented local experts.”

“The University of Southern Maine is one of the major art centers for the region and the state, with a strong mission of public outreach,” said Dean Lynn Kuzma of USM’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHS). “This wonderful project embodies two specific goals of our college: to integrate the arts and humanities with science and technology in creative and innovative ways, and to share these efforts and results with local communities.”

As another example of the college’s efforts, a CAHS academic team, led by Raphael DiLuzio, USM associate professor of digital art and design and CI2 Lab director, and including Hrenko, recently received a $192,000 National Science Foundation grant to teach creative-thinking processes to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educators.

ARTronics is the first of six programs for the 2014 academic year piloted by SidexSide creators Van Mierlo and Annette Kraus in conjunction with Hrenko. The mission of the project, Hrenko said, is to integrate new technological mediums and tools into the processes of creative thinking, visual art content and educational curricula.

Describing the process of the project, Hrenko said that the students first think as artists solving spatial, sculptural and three-dimensional challenges by using aesthetic awareness and arts-based practices. They then work to create objects that function as expressive and responsive sculptures.

Van Mierlo and Kraus said that the Artronics project embodied their vision of using an arts platform, with a collaborative approach, to engage students in inquiry-based methods of learning.

The project represents cross-curricular art integration at its best, they both emphasized. In addition, the project will increase student awareness of careers that merge arts and science disciplines, the SidexSide creators said.

The project will specifically include two one-week-long workshops for the high-school students starting Jan. 6 and taking place again in April. In addition to working at the CI2 Lab, the students will have studio time at Oak Street Studios in Portland.

The students’ sculptures will be on display later next year as part of a First Friday Art Walk in Portland.

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