Aaron Shackelford named Tech’s new director of Office of the Arts

What can computer scientists learn from modern dance?

Why should engineers study hip-hop?

These types of questions are central to the work of Aaron Shackelford, the new director of the Office of the Arts at Georgia Tech.

Among Shackelford’s responsibilities is the Arts@Tech series at the Ferst Center for the Arts, a season of cutting-edge music, dance and the theatrical arts, intended to engage students, faculty and the public.

Tickets to the 2019-2020 season at the Ferst Center go on sale Aug. 6. Shackelford, 40, a native of Indianapolis, reflected on those upcoming performances during a recent conversation, arguing persuasively that the sciences and the arts should nurture each other.

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An example: Many of Tech’s computer engineers end up working for social media companies. “But have they really thought about the emotional tone of social media in a given moment?” asked Shackelford.

The Italian digital design group fuse* has. With aerobatic dancer Elena Annovi, the group creates a landscape of light and sound that is generated by data from the dancer’s heartbeat, the musical accompaniment and a sampling of the mood of a wide swath of social media platforms, retrieved in real time.

The experience could open some eyes, Shackelford said. “Are those conversations and ways of thinking about what algorithms can do and what the implications of social media really are, are those conversations happening in computer science classes? And if not, perhaps this performance can help some of these classes to do this work,” he said.

Shackelford also hopes to bring more artists onto the campus for residencies, for give-and-take with students and faculty and to spend time at Tech working on commissioned performances. “I want them here not just during performances but during the development of a performance, so that the work and insight of students and faculty at Georgia Tech is actually shaping this work.”

A rigorous approach to creativity is important in the sciences, as it is in the arts, he said. The dance group Kinetic Light demonstrates that rigor and can change the way a student thinks. “You can’t learn that in a classroom lecture or in a lab session,” said Shackelford. Such consultations may be an interruption in what is already a challenging course of study for most Tech students, “but I would call it a creative interruption,” he said.

“This is a jolt, this is a new lens that you get to sample. And for some faculty and students, that lens won’t be a good match, which is fine.”

Shackelford said his principle interest is in integrating the arts and academic study, which was his task on the faculties at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Shackelford, who frequently sports colorful scarfs and pocket squares, arrived at Tech in July, has moved into the Old Fourth Ward and has adjusted to Atlanta very quickly, even adopting the city’s new fascination with electric travel.

“I have successfully scooted to multiple places,” he said, adding “I still have all my limbs.

The 2019-2020 season begins in October. The upcoming performances will take place at the Ferst Center for the Arts, at 349 Ferst Drive NW, Atlanta. For tickets call the box office at 404-894-9600 or go to arts.gatech.edu.

Dökk by fuse*

8 p.m. Oct. 4. $36.

Aerial dancer Elena Annovi moves through a sequence of 10 otherworldly environments created by Italian digital design house fuse* that synthesize data from social media, the musical score, the dancer’s heartbeat, and her movements.

Four Seasons Double Concerto

8 p.m. Nov. 15 and 3 p.m. Nov. 17. $32.

An original score inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons will be performed by an operatic soprano, guest instrumentalists and the Georgia Tech Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Chaowen Ting.

Kinetic Light: DESCENT

8 p.m. Nov. 23. $34.

Dancers Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson move on wheelchairs, traversing a stage built with hills and curves, as they re-enact the love story between Venus and Andromeda.

Kid Koala’s Satellite

7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Feb. 15. $28.

As he creates atmospheric tracks, Kid Koala invites every audience member to play along while seated at mini turntable stations equipped with color-coded custom vinyl and effects processors. The result is what Tech calls an “ambient vinyl orchestra.”


8 p.m. March 28. $32.

Japanese performance company enra incorporates contemporary dance, hip-hop, and martial arts while animated computer graphics respond to the dancers’ movements

Scrap Arts Music: Children of Metropolis

8 p.m. April 17. $34.

Inspired by Fritz Lang’s futuristic 1927 film, “Metropolis,” this acoustic percussion ensemble plays on fanciful invented instruments and moves with gymnastic agility.