New federal arts grants go techno

Art and science are merging like never before.

The latest round of $29 million in grants announced Tuesday by the National Endowment for the Arts features a growing emphasis on technology.

A new ballet in Charlotte, N.C., will create a live video feed from the dancers’ point of view. An interactive public art project in Lexington, Ky., will use sound to teach viewers about groundwater. An installation at the University of North Texas in Denton will give visitors a chance to “remix” the sights and sounds of Antarctica.

New NEA Chairman Jane Chu, who ran the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo., until this summer, is looking to expand the arts and the impact of the grants she administers.

“The NEA has always supported creativity and innovation through its grant programs,” said Chu. “And, since 2010, the agency has strengthened its involvement by further encouraging and directly investing in work at the intersection of art, science and technology.”

The Charlotte Ballet received $10,000 toward its debut “Innovative Works in Technology” in January, a new work by artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and choreographer David Ingram. The new work will use at least five micro-cameras on the dancers themselves, a closed-circuit live video feed and a “dancer cage” made by defense contractor Advanced Mission Systems Inc.

The performance will provide a 360-degree view from the dancers’ point of view for what Ingram says will be an immersive experience.

“We’re creating a 3-D environment for the audience to continually view multiple perspectives,” he said.

That is expected to include a type of Google glass product for ballet-goers to wear that will indicate to the dancers what the audience is focusing on and affect the course of the dance.

“They would have an interactive experience,” said Ingram. “There might be factors like variations of movements A, B or C or the speed of the dance. It’s going to be great.”

The University of North Texas’ challenging interactive multidisciplinary artwork is still coming together. The $25,000 grant will help viewers make an artistic connection to the way the world looks from Antarctica.

“We’re a team of artists and scientists creating a project that is giving us a new way of seeing ourselves and our world and really creating a new kind of art,” said Ruth West, a UNT associate professor of New Media and director of the xREZ Art + Science Lab.

Using images of the stars and landscape from the robotic Antarctic telescope CSTAR, the digital project creates visual and sound compositions. Viewers will then be able to remix astrophysics data in real time to develop new sights and sounds that can then be saved on a mobile device.

“It creates a new approach to how we essentially create our culture,” said West.

Closer to Earth, LexArts, the arts council of Lexington has a $40,000 grant to raise awareness about the importance of groundwater.

“Live Stream” is a public art installation that will track the groundwater in four Kentucky springs, each in a different geographic area, every 15 minutes. The project assigns a musical note, recorded by Lexington cellist Ben Sollee, to each digital factor, such as the pH level; the turbidity, meaning the amount of contaminants; and the water level as measured by the Kentucky Geologic Survey.

A series of 20 pipes in the installation will be mounted with sensors, and as a viewer moves, the sounds from the springs will increase or decrease. Multiple viewers create a different sound.

“We’re creating a library of sound,” said Kiersten Nash, founder of Public Works Collaborative, which designed the project.

LexArts’ community arts manager, Nathan Zamarron, said the unique artwork depends on the collaboration with Lexington’s Department of Environmental Quality.

“The art of it is the way of thinking about our surroundings,” he said. “It’s an increased awareness about our watershed that brings the viewer into being an environmental steward.”