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Computers and art?

By From the Lowell Sun

Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- Computer science.

Just mention the subject and fine art is often the last thing that comes to mind. Programming, yes. Maybe even graphic design. But not fine art.

Holly Yanco, a professor with the computer-science department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, hopes to change that. She has partnered with Revolving Museum director Jerry Beck to run an eight-week workshop mixing robotics and art.

The course, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, hopes to spark students' interests in computer science by proving that it can be a creative and enriching enterprise.

"We saw it as a way bring computing to students who otherwise might not be interested," said Fred Martin, a professor with the computer-science department.

Officials at the National Science Foundation granted the university $360,000 for the program, and students in the summer workshop will receive a $2,500 stipend for their work.

Their art, meant to combine sculpture with robotics to make an interactive piece, will be displayed at the Lowell Folk Festival and the Southeast Asian Water Festival.

"There's a lot of public participation with this, and I think that's part of what makes it fun," Yanco said.

The program started yesterday as eight students forged makeshift sculptures using found objects and tape at the Revolving Museum as part of a team building project.

Tyngsboro resident Amanda Courtemanche worked to create, "a multifunctional see-saw telescope drum."

Courtemanche,18, starts at UMass Lowell this fall, and said she is torn between majoring in computer sciences or fine arts.

She thinks the subjects go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

"Computer science is very creative. It just has a little more structure," Courtemanche said.

Luis Gutierrez, 18, believes art needs to incorporate every aspect of modern life, including computers. Gutierrez graduated from Lowell High School this year and hopes to become a mechanical engineer.

"It's a new era of media and it's constantly changing. Plus, if you want to sell your products to customers, they have to look good. An art background is a way to learn about that," Gutierrez said.

The pairing of computers and art isn't new. Several artists, including Ken Rinaldo from Ohio State University, have paired responsive robots to create a sculpture which interacts with the viewer.

Beck, director at the Revolving Museum, said he hopes this collaboration of the two subjects push the envelope in art.

"This will brand this place as the creative revolution. It's happening right now, today. We're going to start it," Beck told students as they gathered at the museum.

The students will exhibit their creations at the Revolving Museum on Aug. 31.

Yanco plans on creating an after-school program for Lowell High School students and turning the workshop into a class for UMass students later in the school year.

For now, she hopes students get the message that computer science can be creative and even fun.

"It's not just a lonely person sitting at a terminal," Yanco said.