In 1980, the year I arrived in Cambridge to join the Course VI faculty, MIT launched the Media Lab. It was a daring new venture intended to push the boundaries of human expression, to combine disciplines in unexpected ways, and to imagine new possibilities for the arts and technology. Even for a newcomer, it was easy to sense the excitement; MIT was committing itself in a whole new way to amplifying the connection between technology and art.
In the decades since, I have seen the creative brilliance and inventive spirit of this community find expression everywhere — not only at the Media Lab but in our science and engineering, in our architecture and entrepreneurship, and through the arts in every form. For instance, our Music section offers MIT students conservatory-level training, while the List Visual Arts Center ranks among the nation’s most significant university collections of contemporary sculpture, paintings, prints, and photographs. And each incoming class deepens and renews MIT’s creative enthusiasm: Today, unprecedented numbers of incoming students—80 percent—arrive at MIT with deep experience in the arts, especially in music.
In that context, the arts have never been more integral to the life of MIT nor more deserving of our focus and attention. As an example, in keeping with MIT’s passionate tradition of learning-by-doing, we believe that our students and faculty in the performing arts deserve their own “laboratory,” an inspiring space for experimentation, collaboration, apprenticeship, and performance. To make this dream come true at last, we are exploring a number of options, from re-imagining an existing building as a performing arts center to building an entirely new space on campus. As we refine these plans, we will certainly seek support and guidance from the many friends of the arts at MIT.
The world counts on MIT to help invent the future. This limitless assignment requires the ability to visualize things no one has seen before, to create unexpected combinations, to listen to different voices and find new harmonies together. Serious invention depends on science — but it is itself an art. And it is nurtured by the same creative community that fuels the rich world of expressive art at MIT.
L. Rafael Reif