College of Fine Arts launches interdisciplinary digital arts program

Trevor Heise

Music professor Bruce Pennycook was appointed late October to the new role of director of digital arts for the College of Fine Arts, and is in the midst of redesigning the college’s interdisciplinary programs and course offerings. 

Pennycook will oversee the college’s efforts to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary study and collaboration. New courses and facilities will integrate technology and art to create a range of possibilities for progress, including 3-D printing labs and advanced digital technologies that would allow choreographers to work with virtual dancers.

“Everywhere I look in the art world, I’m seeing new technologies changing how art forms are made, how they’re taught and how they’re viewed,” said Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “So why should we expect students to confine their studies within the conventional departmental boundaries?”

Pennycook was tapped for the position, in part, because of his experience as panel chairman of the Bridging Disciplines Program in digital arts and media — an interdisciplinary fine arts program that allows students take a mix of courses in computer science, fine arts and the humanities. Pennycook said the programs have provided an “ideal model” for interdisciplinary study and insights for the upcoming changes.

“UT is fairly unique in that we offer these robust interdisciplinary programs,” academic adviser Rose Mastrangelo said. “They provide a place for students with passions that are too broad to study through only one discipline.”

The changes will come at the expense of older art programs, said Dempster. A ceramics and metals workshop is being refurbished to make way for a new high-tech digital fabrication lab, and advanced metals courses are being dropped in favor of new offerings. The college also aims to construct a “creative commons” that provides students with audio and video editing technologies, among other resources. 

“I’m excited that the College of Fine Arts is going in a new direction that acknowledges the art of the time, but I’m also disappointed that they have to do it at the expense of traditional programs,” studio art freshman Connor Frew said. 

Dempster said his department is working to strike a balance between new and old artistic techniques that incorporates the insights of traditional techniques while creating an environment ideal for progress and innovation.

“I think our focus on the arts is often lost in a rush towards disciplines like science and business and engineering,” Dempster said. “This helps us stay on cutting edge in the arts and humanities.”