UCLA-led project receives $1.3 million NSF grant to connect creativity and innovation

Published: January 17, 2024
Cybersecurity schematic on digital screenThe project aims to strengthen workforce development at the intersection of creativity and innovation. (Photo: Adi Goldstein/Unpslash)

Jessica Wolf | January 16, 2024

UCLA researchers from the humanities, arts and engineering aim to foster stronger ties between America’s vibrant creative sector and those involved in pioneering scientific research, technology innovation and workforce evolution.

Funded by a $1.3 million award from the National Science Foundation, the yearlong project will include a series of activities exploring how to connect regional strengths in culture and technology, foster U.S. competitiveness in industries involved in the creative sector and strengthen workforce development at the nexus of creativity and technology in critical and emerging areas of innovation, such as artificial intelligence.

UCLA has launched a project office supported by the NSF’s new directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, or TIP, first established in 2022. This hub will coordinate and fund nationwide activities, including regional workshops to be held across the country, producing an industry summit with NSF by fall 2024 and hosting a national conference at UCLA by December. These events will facilitate dialogue and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, from small businesses and economic development agencies to students and faculty across disciplines.

Chris Johanson, an associate professor of classics and chair of the UCLA Program in Digital Humanities, is one of the campus leads for the initiative.

“This project explores how culture and creativity can be a meaningful part of TIP’s goal of engaging all Americans in innovation,” said Jeff Burke, professor and associate dean of research and technology at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “My hope is that in five years, we’ll see a wider range of lasting partnerships between technology research and development and the arts, humanities, and creative sector. I’d love to contribute to a future where people whose ingenuity spans these disciplinary boundaries are supported and encouraged to pursue them together.”

Jennifer Jacobs, a UC Santa Barbara assistant professor of media arts and technology and of computer science, is the project’s co-principal investigator. Along with Johanson, Burke’s on-campus collaborators are Lauren Lee McCarthy, professor of design media arts at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture; and Gregory Pottie, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. The proposal and administration of the award have been supported by the UCLA Office of Research and Creative Activities.

“I’m excited about the potential for this project to elevate and expand the diversity of voices in the conversation around technological innovation,” McCarthy said. “My hope is that this work can open access to new communities and sectors, and recognize many different types of knowledge making, creativity and innovation.”

By the end of 2024, the team plans to recommend a five- to 10-year roadmap for further engagement by funders, researchers and practitioners, incorporating ideas from participants across the country.

Burke has been working at the intersection of the arts and technology for nearly two decades as the co-founder of TFT’s Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance, known as REMAP, a collaboration with the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, which combines research, artistic production and community engagement.

“Historically, technology and the arts have inspired each other to further advances in both,” Pottie said. “With this initiative, NSF will be proactively gathering expert advice from industry, communities and academia on the best ways to foster a diverse multidisciplinary workforce capable of advancing U.S. leadership in new forms of cultural expression that incorporate the latest technologies.”

TIP’s mission is to accelerate the development of new technologies and products that improve Americans’ way of life, grow the economy and create new jobs, and strengthen and sustain U.S. competitiveness.

In their proposal for the project, researchers contend that enhancing and sustaining innovation ecosystems that bring together culture, creativity and technology will broadly benefit the American economy, noting that creative industries — spanning performing arts, visual arts, design, media, publishing and more, accounted for more than $1 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2021, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

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