Campus Life innovation nation

Hacking Arts

Jazzing up creativity

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Members from the audience joined MIT Media Lab student, Eric Ross Rosenbaum G, on stage to create a spontaneous rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” by becoming human synthesizers using Makey Makey, a small circuit board that enables anything conductive to control your computer.
Jeremy Cimafonte
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“The Digital Canvas: Art Beyond Gallery Walls” Panelists discussed the future of art and technology, from inspiration to creation to sale. From right: Aditya Julka, co-founder of Paddle 8 (an online art auction house); Lindsay Moroney, VP of operations at ArtNet; Kelly Sherman, Artist; Sam Aquillano, co-founder and executive direct of Design Museum Boston; Jeff Lieberman, kinetic sculpture artist and host of Time Warp, Discovery Channel; and Evan Garza, co-founder of Fire Island Artist Residency and SMFA.
Jeremy Cimafonte

“We believe that everyone is creative, inventive, and imaginative. We believe that everyone can create the future and change the world.” The motto for invention kit Makey Makey, created by MIT Media Lab students Eric R. Rosenbaum G and Jay S. Silver G, seemed to implicitly set the tone of Hacking Arts as Rosenbaum and his band of randomly chosen volunteers kicked off with an audience-pleasing live performance of MJ’s “Billie Jean.” How did random untrained people come together to spontaneously perform “Billie Jean?” By becoming human synthesizers, of course. Makey Makey, a tiny circuit board that connects to Arduino, allows you to transform anything even mildly conductive into a live keyboard. As people became instruments on stage, linked together with bright colorful wires that were connected to a tiny device transmitting to speakers blasting The King of Pop, all I could think was, “This is so MIT.”

And indeed, Hacking Arts was an energizing weekend dedicated to immersion and celebration across all of the arts, covering music, fashion, performing arts, visual arts & design, and film, TV, and digital. As a musician, design fiend, fashion lover, entertainment junkie, and artist, I felt like a kid in a candy store (which is how I usually feel at MIT), except it was filled with all my ultimate favorite candies (such as all sorts of bonbons). Jay Calderin, the founder of Boston Fashion Week, led a panel with fashionistas Angela Cravens Cheadle and Jill Sherman MBA ’12 about how technology was shaping and influencing the entire fashion industry, from new digital platforms that encourage designers to share both their inspiration and new lines to intelligent, wearable technology that is actually fashionable. In Cheadle’s words, “Tech is chic now. Fashion is getting nerdy, and it’s beautiful.”

And nerdy today is awesome. Why? Because nerds are the makers, the designers, the creators who are able to use technology to solve problems and build beautiful experiences. Hacking Arts was the perfect environment for all of us nerds to come together in the hackathon: new ideas that could shape the future of the arts emerged from the marker-frenzied IdeaStorms. Taking home Most Creative from the hackathon, The Golden Bananas developed a way to visualize art that responds to the lyrics and beat of the song you’re listening to. By integrating different technologies to create a new experience for music lovers, including Curiator, which allows you to collect art based on your taste profile; LyricFind, which is a search engine that lets you find the lyrics to all of your favorite songs; and the Echo Nest API that provides access to billions of data points about music from leading media companies, they build their prototype. With a focus on customization, the team of developed an interdisciplinary event discovery platform that enables users to find a gallery opening or a trunk show based on music or film preferences.

How did all these great ideas come to life? Maybe because the environment made it hard not to be creative. I was surrounded by awesomely random, imaginative art installations — for example, a microorganisms in fermentation sound piece that involved kimchi, and thoughtfully beautiful pieces like Little Sun, which is a solar-powered lamp that can bring clean, affordable light to the 1.6 billion people worldwide without access to the electrical grid. Hacking Arts was another prime example of how MIT represents the inspiring balance between playful and meaningful, weird and beautiful. Just my style.

A huge thank you to Hacking Arts Co-Chairs Kathleen Stetson G, Catherine Halaby G, and their incredible team from across MIT, Berklee College of Music, and Wellesley for creating such an inspirational, cutting-edge arts event celebrating industry speakers, brilliant performers, and all of those who love the arts. Encore!