Art and the avant-garde have always gone hand in hand. Today, U.S. colleges are taking it to an entirely new level, with arts and crafts, museum conservation and digital arts programs that push the boundaries of technology and expression.

Revamping arts and crafts

Glass blowing is among the arts using new technology at the Appalachian Center for Craft. (Courtesy photo)

When it comes to glass blowing, ceramics and woodworking, some schools shy away from adapting technology in deference to “old ways” of preserving the past. But not the Appalachian Center for Craft, a satellite campus of Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tennessee.

Students use computer-aided design, 3-D printers and computerized looms to preserve and advance the treasures of that mountain region, said Jeff Adams, the center’s outgoing director.

The center also teaches new ways to apply skills. Working together on a project in sub-Saharan Africa, engineering students design water-filtration systems and ceramics students make clay water-filtration devices.

“It’s about what they want to do with the skills they’re learning here, not just about how to produce things for sale,” Adams said.

Conserving more than art

Museum conservation students at New Mexico State University put their restoration skills to the test. (Courtesy photo)

New Mexico State University, the oldest public institution for postsecondary education in the state, has been offering a bachelor’s degree in museum conservation since 2005.

Interest in art conservation may have something to do with the popularity of forensic science on such television shows as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, says director Silvia Marinas-Feliner.

And conservation is always in demand. “Things deteriorate and need to be preserved, especially with natural disasters,” she said.

One of her former students, Lyndy Bush, works at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington. “I’m conserving botanical specimens that were damaged [by Hurricane Sandy] while they were out on loan,” Bush said.

“The idea of a career in art that incorporates science and skill was what made me fall in love with the field.”

Animated shorts and other digital arts

More and more students are flocking to the digital arts, including animation, video game development, graphic design and visual effects.

Anne Yang is an animation student at the School of Visual Arts in New York, which has made a name for itself as one of the country’s premier digital arts programs.

Her education has given her invaluable hands-on training. At the end of her junior year, she collaborated with seven students on making an animated short film, Fright Shift, about a ghost hunter who is afraid of ghosts. “Students don’t typically get that experience,” Yang said.

As a senior, she used her skills to produce a thesis film called Broken Wand that took second place in animation at the College Television Awards.

What makes the Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects Department so appealing? “We offer a program that only hires working professionals as faculty, that has the highest academic rigor, and that allows students to excel by concentrating on the practice of being an artist for each of their four years,” said department chair John McIntosh.

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This article was written by freelance writer Karen Calabria. Staff writer Mark Trainer contributed.