High Tech Art

Technology and art collide at Santa Cruz festival

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Illustration by Anna McGrew
Illustration by Anna McGrew

An interface is a shared boundary of information, not only between computer systems, but also between art and innovation.

The Santa Cruz Arts and Technology (SCAT) Festival returns as the “interface of creativity,” to the Museum of Arts and History (MAH) for the second year from May 10-13. With a focus on sustainability, artists and technology specialists will discuss how to better merge their fields and how to aid the community through innovation.

Started by artist and musician Phoenix Dr Now, the festival showcases innovators in both the art and technology industries and invites people to learn more about new ideas by local companies in Santa Cruz like the creation of biofuel vehicles by The Green Station and new tech fashion from Subverse Industries.

“The role and function of humanities is critical in the future of the technological society,” said panelist and San Jose State University professor G. Craig Hobbs. “If we don’t know why we are doing things with technology we are bound to create more problems instead of solve problems. We need to be where technology helps to facilitate a future beneficial to a much wider range of people.”

Hobbs was one of the many panelists invited to the festival to speak on the role of tech within arts and education. Through micro processors and web development, students can work collaboratively across disciplines to make prototype solutions for challenges the city of San Jose faces, Hobbs said.

“Technology has radically transformed the educational landscape. I use constructivist learning models, [which] basically say that students learn by constructing a public entity or by building things,” Hobbs said. “Students from the arts, engineering and social sciences work together to address these problems including homelessness, sustainable food distribution models and crime.”

The SCAT Festival sheds light on professors and pioneers who work with arts and tech in creative ways to benefit the Santa Cruz community.

“At their core they both are driven by creativity and innovation, but their purposes are not the same,” Phoenix Dr Now said. “What we envision is creative collaborations motivated toward positive cultural outcomes, real world benefits and scalable solutions instead of innovations motivated primarily for profit gain or for attention-grabbing uniqueness.”

These events are for those who are looking to bridge the gap between the two while experiencing fun, artistic exhibits like light art installations inspired by spiritual, tantric visions.

“It seems like a logical direction that the town would have a festival or event centered around three of the main core components that make up our community,” said festival panelist Payson McNett, an instructor at Cabrillo College’s Fab Lab — a studio that teaches students skills in laser cutting, engraving, 3D printing and scanning.

With the fifth largest population of artists per capita in the nation based on the 2010 Census, Phoenix Dr Now also said Santa Cruz is the perfect place for an event like this. It is also situated right next to Silicon Valley — which has broadened its influence in the region with more than 500 tech businesses.

“I am not aware of anyone combining all the elements we bring to that performance such as we do, not in Silicon Valley or anywhere else,” Phoenix Dr Now said. “Also, I suspect we are the only arts and tech event whose purpose is specifically to stimulate innovations towards healthier and more sustainable solutions.”

The importance of combining both sectors is reflected in projects like the one McNett helps facilitate — making prosthetic limbs for kids and veterans. Having Cabrillo’s engineering club work with the art students who use the 3D printers shows the effectiveness of tech in the process of art making.

“Art can spur innovation and creativity within sciences,” McNett said. “There’s an interconnectedness. We frequently look at these two areas [that] are very dissimilar yet are very integrated with one another.”