IDEAS: Thriving After the First Full Year

Left: IDEAS major Jared Kelley-Hudgeons with his “Atmospheric Orchestra” Spring 2018. Center: Jenny Kendler talking to IDEAS major, Keaton Fisher, at her “Seed Bombs” table, at the Garden for a Changing Climate Earth Day Sustainability Fair at the UIC Quad, April 23, 2018. Right, IDEAS major Alexandra Hohnsen, silkscreening at the Earth Day Sustainability Fair at the UIC Quad, April 23, 2018.


Almost a hundred years ago, the educational pioneer, John Dewey wrote that “In normal experience, a sensory quality is related to other qualities in such ways as to define an object.” He meant that the human senses are cued by materials in the world, as well as to the social context of those materials. In the IDEAS major, students learn to shape perception into art experiences, or rather many sensory experiences, across the many arts represented by CADA.

In the spirit of interdisciplinary research and education, around 15 years ago a group of UIC faculty in CADA dedicated a special course rubric to Interdisciplinary Studies in the Arts (ISA). The goal was simple, we wanted to provide a context for faculty in different departments to team teach across departmental boundaries.   By the Spring of 2017, this exceptional collaboration had blossomed into a major, newly named IDEAS (Interdisciplinary Education in the Arts). The IDEAS major is fundamentally dedicated to the idea that the boundaries of disciplines, those things that energize creative practices from the margins, require their own dedicated area of study, where interdisciplinary practice is institutionally supported. Albeit based in the School of Art & Art History, the IDEAS major is dedicated to interdisciplinary study and practice across all the domains represented by CADA: Art, Art History, Music, Theater, Architecture, and Design all potentially come together in IDEAS as a coordinated matrix for creative engagement and practice-based problem solving.  The major is thriving. This fall, we have 22 IDEAS majors; a year ago we had twelve.

The major is based on a scaffolding of interdisciplinary studies. Using the idea of Intermedia as the basis for the creative disciplines, the students learn the history and practice of all the departments in in the college by way of visiting faculty who visit the IDEAS courses. With this foundation, students study how artists, art historians, architects, designers, musicians and actors work across media to design games, immersive environments, social practice art, and electronic music using traditional as well as digital technologies.  Because of our shared belief that digital literacy (coding and web interactivity) are central tenets for understanding and working in the current context, the IDEAS major requires elementary coding, interactive web design, design thinking, design basics, and the history of art or design as fundamentals before students move into the capstone sequence of the major. Not surprisingly, we aso view this as an excellent way for students to discover other majors in the college and we support transfers from IDEAS into other parts of the college. In addition to interactive web design, current IDEAS majors are interested in data visualization & sonification, game design, and multi-platform activism, to name just a few areas of student work that require training across the many areas of CADA.  

As the practice-basis of this intermedial major developed last year, it became clear that our students would require a second mentor-faculty-member as a co-director. To this end, the School of Art and Art History hired Tiffany Funk as full time visiting faculty. Funk arrives after a year working half-time for the major She has  a PhD in Art History, having written a dissertation American composer John Cage’s collaborative 1969 multi-media spectacle, HPSCHD. She also has an MFA in New Media Arts. Working in both the theory and practice of digital art in general and games in particular, Funk is the founding editor of the first academic journal on gaming, the Video Game Art ReaderFunk is also active internationally as a jury member of SIGGRAPH and the Media-N Journal of the New Media Caucus of CAA.

Funk was instrumental in the successful collaboration between IDEAS and Gallery 400 in coordinating student practicums with Jenny Kendler and Lorelei Stewart through a Humanities Without Walls funded community-driven participatory public art project Garden for a Changing Climate, which started this spring at UIC and is taking place in multiple Chicago neighborhoods this summer. Typical of the practice-basis of the major for students advancing to the final year, the core of students worked with a variety of offices at UIC to assist Kendler and the Gallery 400 staff in planning and presenting the “Garden for a Changing Climate Earth Day Sustainability Fair” at the UIC Quad, which celebrated Earth Day and UIC’s Climate Change Commitments. In coordination with Gallery 400, Music, the Labs in SAAH, the UIC Office of Sustainability, Buildings and Grounds, African American Studies, LALS, and the School of Art & Art History, these rising senior IDEAS majors worked with two students in the Sustainability Office’s internship program to orchestrate the half-day pop-up event that featured booths and activities from various organizations on campus and throughout Chicago. These organizations explore sustainable and green practices for everyday life. Garden for a Changing Climate continued throughout the summer of 2018 in Washington Park at Sweet Water Foundation, in Marshall Square at Hammond and Telpochcalli elementary schools, in Albany Park at the American Indian Center, and in West Garfield Park at 360 Nation at Sumner Sumner Elementary Math & Science Community Academy.

This multi-departmental, multi-institutional partnership is the first of many, we hope. As a ‘liberal arts of the arts,’ IDEAS can be a resource to faculty and students, alumni and emeritus across CADA committed to the institutional collaboration, un-siloed intellectual exchange and collective creative practice that we believe is a hallmark of contemporary life.


John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York, NY: Perigee Books, 1934), 124.