Intellect and Innovation collide: Inside UT’s ACTLab

Housed in the somewhat inconspicuous 1970-esque façade of UT-Austin’s Communication School, a group of students, professors and local Austinites congregate to push the theme of “outside-the-box” thinking to a different level. According to their site, the ACTLab is:

a unique international and interdisciplinary group of artists, scholars, teachers, techies, and hackers. We situate our work at the hotly contested intersections where technology, art, and culture collide. We’re aware and proud of our past fourteen years of contributions to modern thinking, advanced communication theory and practice, and academic excellence. We’re proud to say that we didn’t jump on the New Media bandwagon — we created it. ACTLab principles of risk-taking, extreme interdisciplinarity, and openness to innovation have been extensively quoted and debated at institutions worldwide as they attempt to chart their own future courses.

How many former Longhorns out there knew the ACTLab existed?

ACTLab Offices from Kristine Gloria on Vimeo.

For me, it wasn’t until two weeks ago – during Jelly – that I learned UT offered such a progressive program. The brain child of Sandy Stone, the ACTLab opened in 1992 in a small closet-like room on the sixth floor of the communications building. Now in its 16th year, the lab has grown and features some of the latest technology (all bought, built and installed by the students).

The program encourages and teaches students “how to think”, not what to think. Students are engaged in “intensive discussion, conceptual freeplay, and intellectual daring.” Who doesn’t want that?

I decided to visit the ACTLab with a colleague of mine in order to really understand and experience what it meant to be in an environment that not just encourages innovation, but demands it. Just visiting the site was invigorating and motivating.

I’m lucky to work for a company that encourages these types of excursions and supports an individual’s inquisitive nature. And, now, I’m even more excited to find a place that facilitates my need to address my curiosity.

Thanks to Joey for the tour and for letting us invade his afternoon. It was a great one filled with amazing discussions and real reflection of how crucial innovation, creativity and collaboration has become in our society. Couple of thoughts to throw out there:

  • It is often noted that the greatest ideas/innovation emerge during a recession. Have you developed/noticed any?
  • Do you live by the check-list? If so, where do you find your innovation and creativity?
  • Does your area/school/University have similar programs?

To see some of the notable works, please click here.


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