When the Rubenstein Arts Center opened last spring, the student body was promised that the new building would be a place for artistic exploration, a hub for interdisciplinary discovery and collaboration. 

Since then, the Ruby has covered almost every artistic base from the moving image to dance, and has collaborated extensively with other departments at Duke to allow students to marry artistic mediums with topics as wide in scope from prosthetic engineering to computer programing. This integrative spirit is present in the upcoming Art + Tech Fair, a joint effort by Duke OIT and Duke Arts to combine cutting-edge technology with the arts in order to produce uniquely multidimensional exhibits and demonstrate how printers and lasers can be harnessed for creative projects.

“We hope that students will have an ‘aha’ moment at the event — to show them how fellow students have used technology tools to be creative,” said Jeannine Sato,  communications strategist for Duke’s Office of Information Technology, who coordinates the technological portion of the event. “Because technology can sometimes feel intimidating, we think an open-house where students can try out the tools with a little help from staff opens the door to coming back with their own ideas.”

Even though she represents the “tech” half of the fair, Sato is eager for students of all backgrounds and disciplines to experiment with the technology provided. 

“The event is absolutely for the entire student body," she said. "OIT specifically works with a lot of engineering and computer science students, and they are amazing. But we also want students in arts, humanities and social sciences to know there is something for them too.”

Sato is especially excited for the fair’s experimental, “crowd-sourced” exhibit: a chandelier made of laser-cut wood pieces and added to the project by attendees. 

“We have no idea if it will work,” Sato said, “But we are excited to try and that's what it's all about.”

The crowd-sourced chandelier perfectly encapsulates the synergy at work in both the Ruby and the pop-up exhibits that will be present during the fair. Attendees will be allowed to test out a range of 3D printers, which have been provided by the Duke student organization eNable, a group that focuses on using 3D printing technology to produce cheap prosthetics for amputees. Other exhibits include the use of novel techniques, such as micro-controllers to bring watercolor paintings to life and lucid digital instruments played using gestures. 

Organizers hope that by introducing students to these technologies in a faculty-led, low-pressure environment, they will be encouraged to integrate them into other projects and undertakings at Duke and continue experimenting with all of the technology that the university has to offer.

Katy Clune, arts communication specialist for the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, is optimistic about the fair’s ability to familiarize students with these new technologies.

“My hope is that students will leave the fair knowing what tools are available to them," she said. "Knowing what you can do with the laser cutter, for example, might lead to a dynamic class project years later.”

Clune is confident that both art and tech will be equally represented at the event, despite Duke's tendency to focus more on the sciences. 

“Creativity and innovation are essential for both art and technology—and in both fields, the maker is often trying to design a solution to solve a problem or communicate an idea," she said. "At the Art + Tech fair, students will be able to learn about the tools they can use for any kind of creative project, and just knowing the different resources available at Duke will be inspirational.”

Regardless of a student’s background or exposure to technology, the Art + Tech Fair promises to be an exciting experience for attendees. The range of exhibits that will be presented — spanning from 3D structures to video installations — is likely to spark a conversation and stir up interest in the groundbreaking technological processes harnessed to bring artwork to life. 

As the Ruby’s second major foray into interdisciplinary crossovers — the first being “Art of a Scientist”, which was held over the summer — the fair is the perfect vehicle for emphasizing the collaboration going on behind its doors. Once the fair is over, there will be plenty of opportunities to create, experiment, and develop using new technology and artistry, especially within the Ruby.

“In the end, we want to promote creative expression and problem-solving,” Sato said. “Art and technology together are perfect vehicles for that.”

The Art + Tech Fair will be held at the Rubenstein Arts Center on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 6:30-8:30 pm.