What does innovation mean at ASU’s Herberger Institute?

by Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Sparky and friends at ASU’s first ever Innovation Day

At Arizona State University, we talk about innovation a lot, and last week, the university held its inaugural Innovation Day. Several thousand faculty, staff and students gathered at Sun Devil Stadium to celebrate what we’ve accomplished together — to learn, play, experiment and explore new ideas, and then experience a performance by the phenomenal Reggie Watts.

The day was many things: unexpected, exciting, educational, fun, thought-provoking and — naturally — innovative.

So what exactly do we mean at ASU’s Herberger Institute when we talk about innovation?

To begin with, we mean breaking out of the containers that have held design and the arts for most of the 20th century, in special places and for special functions, and reimagining how and where designers and artists can work in the world, who we can work with and how our creativity activates public life.

We mean:

These are some examples of how the nation’s largest comprehensive, design and arts college is working across ASU’s five campuses and California centers to embed designers, artists and art-based inquiry at the core of the university. We innovate by these connections and cross-fertilizations and collaborations. We’re innovating in the methodologies we want to open up to our students, the spaces where we want to work, and in our projects with partners who share our goals around inclusion, access and the generation of new knowledge. Our recent partnerships with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Autodesk are just the first of many we will announce in the coming years.

At the national level, we are innovating by creating a space, the National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation and Inclusion, for artists/designers/culture bearers/community leaders to imagine, prototype and scale ways artists and designers can leverage their practices for social justice and public good. We’re innovating at the university level with the creation of Institute Professors who have the freedom to work across ASU to knit disciplines and colleges together and demonstrate how transdisciplinary, trans-medium practice can transform student work and public imagination. Our first Institute Professor, Liz Lerman, has been working on Wicked Bodies, and our newest Institute Professor, Wanda Dalla Costa, has launched the Indigenous Design Collaborative.

Every day, Herberger Institute students and faculty are surfacing new approaches, new partnerships, new ways to put their skills and unique perspectives to work for change in the world. Below is just a taste of what innovation in design and the arts at ASU looks like.

Here’s to more of it in the coming year, and to breaking out of our containers!

Examples of innovation at Herberger Institute

  • Acoustic Ecology Lab, a transdisciplinary research lab between the School of Music and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, both in ASU’s Herberger Institute, and ASU’s School of Sustainability, which examines the sonic environments through various modes of listening in the field. Led by Sabine Feisst and Garth Paine
  • Enmei (Long Life): A Dance and Aging Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration between internationally renowned dance artist Kei Takei and ASU faculty from Herberger Institute and the Women and Gender Studies program to examine dance and aging in two different cultural contexts. Led by Mary Fitzgerald, Eileen Standley, Kotoka Suzuki
  • Film Spark, a School of Film, Dance and Theatre program at the intersection of the entertainment industry and academia that accelerates the careers of ASU students and alumni, engages and grows the network of Hollywood Sun Devils and works to improve the entertainment industry, and has expanded to include job/internship fairs; sponsorship of for-credit courses in Tempe; and new connections with Santa Monica College. Led by Adam Collis
  • The Indigenous Design Collaborative, a community-driven design and construction program that brings together tribal community members, industry and a multidisciplinary team of ASU students and faculty to co-design and co-develop solutions for tribal communities in Arizona. Led by Wanda Dalla Costa
  • The Music Theatre and Opera Program’s New Works Initiative, which forges a new model for the creation of music theatre stage works, aims to establish ASU as a major producer of new opera and music theatre works, and exposes students to the creative process of new work development by working directly with composers and librettists and collaborating with internationally recognized professional artists and organizations. (The Los Angeles Opera is premiering “Prism,” an opera produced by Herberger Institute, workshopped at the School of Music and produced by ASU alum Beth Morrison, this month.) Led by Brian DeMaris
  • Redesign School, an online platform created by The Design School at ASU to listen and engage with the best minds in the design world and rethink the future of design education. Led by The Design School’s faculty and staff
  • SCAPE, a project that introduced environmental history, ethics, mapping and water quality testing protocols to regional students over the course of two years, and Testing the Water, which includes a curriculum, online publication and public exhibition comprised of stories, images and video that share stories of place tied to water quality across the Colorado River Basin in Arizona. Led by Dan Collins
  • Partnership with Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall to utilize and optimize vacant spaces within the mall as pop-up exhibition opportunities for students in the fashion and art programs in the School of Art. Led by Dennita Sewell
  • SERRA, an immersive environment with several presentation formats (performances in public settings, stage productions and installations) that approaches movement in an entirely new way, adapting time and space scales to the activity of plants, and placing the human body within this new dimension. Led by Sha Xin Wei, Todd Ingalls, Julian Stein
  • Sol Motion, a series of three distinct, interrelated events — Urban Sol, Latin Sol, and Come As You Are — that bring Phoenix communities together through workshops, panels, performances and dances. Led by Melissa Britt, David Olarte, Marcus White

For more examples of how we’re innovating, join Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.



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