What Does Mellon See In MIT's Center for Art, Science and Technology?

Amid all the talk about the alleged perilous state of liberal arts at the university level, it's easy to perceive the debate as a zero-sum game. On one side, the thinking goes, you have a classic liberal arts education. On the other, a forward-looking, technology-driven, science and technology-oriented curriculum. What's more, given the stresses of today's economy, the former inevitably pulls resources from the latter. And never shall the two intersect.

You'd think this phenomenon would be particularly acute at a place like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But au contraire.

Check out the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology (CAST). Its role is to act as a "catalyst for multidisciplinary creative experimentation and integration of the arts across all areas of MIT." CAST just received a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, bringing the foundation's total support for CAST to $3 million, among the largest gifts received by the arts at MIT.

So what, exactly, is so special about CAST?

Well, for starters, the center "promotes research, teaching, and programming at the intersections of art, science, and engineering. The center brings outstanding artists to campus as co-creators with faculty and students and sponsors a biennial, international symposium focused upon interrelated, mutually informing modes of exploration, knowledge, and discovery in various domains of the arts and sciences."

Since its inception in 2012, CAST has provided grants for more than 20 artist residencies and collaborative projects with MIT faculty and students, 12 cross-disciplinary courses and workshops, two concert series, and numerous multimedia projects, lectures, and symposia.

This is no small feat, and here's why. As I previously noted, liberal arts and technology aren't mutually exclusive. What's more, the two worlds are merging. Take the rise of 3D printers, for example. Their promise is limitless, but it's contingent on the human element. Specifically, if you talk to engineers, they'll tell you the one thing that's required to truly optimize the technology is creative and artistic engineers. And they're in short supply.

This requires a paradigm shift. After all, engineers, so the story goes, are Xs and Os-oriented thinkers. They're not artists and poets. That needs to change, and it's a lesson that isn't lost on CAST, which "builds upon MIT’s 50 years of imaginative, forward-thinking approaches to integrating the arts into a research institution renowned for science and engineering." In fact, nearly half of all science and engineering undergraduate students enroll in music and theater classes each academic year.

Click here for more about Mellon's gift and the forward-thinking CAST program.

Related: What Does Mellon's Big Vision for the Humanities Look Like?