EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was written by Grace Fitzgibbon, a junior journalism major, for an assignment in a summer “Beat Reporting” course led by Jill Martin, assistant professor of practice. Fitzgibbon is the daughter of Dave Fitzgibbon, director of video services with University Communication.
A buzz — beyond the flurry of harried contractors — is starting to surround the pending launch of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.
The program, founded in 2015 with a $20 million donation from the Johnny Carson Foundation, will christen its renovated building at 13th and Q streets on Aug. 26 with the start of the university’s fall semester. As the opening nears, excitement is growing among the academic program’s first cohort of 33 students.
“I took a hard hat tour of the building with some of my classmates last semester, and it was so cool to finally get a sneak peek of all the progress,” said Annie Wang, a sophomore from Omaha. “It definitely got all of us excited for the program, and we’re all just itching to finally step in it when it’s done.”
Megan Elliott, founding director of the program, defines “emerging media arts” as a twofold concept starting with the idea that we live beside intelligent machines. Emerging media is the technology, or machine, and media art is the creativity, or human.
The degree program offers a bachelor of fine arts in emerging media arts, which has a foundation of design storytelling, creative computing, and entrepreneurship. Each student will take two of eight different emphases, choosing from cinematic arts, virtual production, immersive and interactive media, story, experience design, sonic arts, sensory media, and data and art.
The opportunities to expand upon a degree are vast. Graduates may one day create digital video animations for architecture companies or create data visualization for precision agriculture.
Starting a program from the ground up has been hard work, tapping the expertise of some of the best minds in the business for advice, designing the curriculum, hiring new faculty, and recruiting the first group of students. There is a high bar to reach, but Elliott is taking it in stride.
“It’s a life’s work, and doing anything that’s new and as aspirational as this has its challenges, of course,” Elliott said. “Anything worth doing has challenges. If it’s not hard, it’s probably not worth doing.”
Breaking new ground
The Carson Center launch is drawing attention from students across the nation. For example, being a part of the first cohort was a must for Sarah Pagano, a freshman from Cranbury, New Jersey.
“Coming from the East Coast to Nebraska is a big jump and not something most people do,” Pagano said. “However, I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience this program.”
The allure of the new program also managed to attract existing Huskers. Along with 21 new freshmen, 12 current students are joining the program this fall.
A focus on entrepreneur skills is setting the Carson Center apart from related programs at other higher education institutions — particularly those from larger coastal schools.
That fact is a draw for Benjamin Reichle of St. Helena, Nebraska. He will enter the program as a freshman and is setting his sights on becoming a maverick film director. Hoping to follow a path similar to Steven Spielberg, Reichle has aspirations of studying under German director Kaleb Lechowski. The goal may be made possible as Elliott is working to create signature internship and study abroad opportunities.
“For somebody like me, who might want to start their own studio someday or hone their individual skills, this new major will show all of us how to strike out on our own if we want to, or at least give us the tools to do so,” Reichle said. “Everything this program offers is what I could get somewhere else but better. I cannot stress enough how ecstatic I am to start school in the fall.”
The program will also offer students the chance to learn directly from industry leaders — including new faculty, members of the center’s advisory council and others outside of the program.
“Whoever isn’t already on our program’s advisory council, (Elliott) has on hold to come teach us about the industry,” Reichle said. “Powerhouse mentors and occasional legends visiting from Hollywood and beyond to bless us with their wisdom? Yes please.”
When the doors open, the Carson Center building will feature an open space designed specifically for collaboration. It will also allow students and faculty to reconfigure furnishings to accommodate various projects.
Elliott said everything about the space is state-of-the-art and designed to change as technology evolves. Specialized areas include an audio lab and two emerging media arts labs for recording things like video, motion capture and data capture.
“The different technologies that are going to be in there is just mind boggling,” Parker Reil, sophomore from Ogallala, Nebraska, said. “It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen.”