The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University is a laboratory for atypical, anti-disciplinary, and inter-institutional research at the intersections of arts, science, technology and culture.

Founded in 1989 within the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the STUDIO serves as a locus for hybrid enterprises on the CMU campus, the Pittsburgh region, and internationally. Our current emphasis on new-media arts builds on more than three decades of experience hosting interdisciplinary artists in an environment enriched by world-class science and engineering departments.

STUDIO presentation

The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry is a flexible laboratory for new modes of arts research, production and presentation.

Through our research, residency and public programming, the STUDIO provides opportunities for learning, dialogue and production that lead to innovative breakthroughs, new policies, and the redefinition of the role of artists in a quickly changing world.

What We Do

The STUDIO supports emerging artists who create and adapt emerging media. Our people (who include faculty, staff, students, and visitors) work at the frontiers of diverse fields such as virtual and augmented reality, interactive robotic installation, generative arts, playable art, critical software, biological art, tactical media, experimental interaction design, relational art, and other forms of cultural instigation. To such researchers, the STUDIO provides direct financial, administrative, logistical, advisory, and technical support. The STUDIO also serves as a “meta-laboratory” — a portal to the larger university context through which creative persons can connect to the widest possible array of experts, facilities, and resources.

STUDIO Programs

Institutionally, the STUDIO resists easy definition. Our unit fulfills its mission in six distinct ways, discussed below:

  1. Support for Arts Research
  2. The FRFAF Grant Program
  3. Educational Programs
  4. Creatives-in-Residence Program
  5. Interdisciplinary Advocacy
  6. A Collaborative and Accessible Workspace

Support for Arts Research

The STUDIO provides administrative, logistical and technical support for faculty-led arts research initiatives, including assistance with fundraising, grant-writing, travel, payroll, purchasing, contracting, reporting, fiscal management and forecasting, event planning, and much more. Faculty-led research projects projects, by their nature, can entail unusual requirements and periods of fitful intensity. By administering these projects, the STUDIO provides a key easement to the CFA Schools, whose business managers would otherwise be distracted from running the day-to-day business of their educational units.

Building on our hard-won knowledge of our university’s institutional policies and procedures, one of the most valuable services the STUDIO provides is bureaucratic wayfinding — helping faculty navigate and achieve compliance with CMU’s Office of Sponsored Projects, Sponsored Project Accounting Office, Controller’s Office, Advancement Office, and Intellectual Property Office, as well as meeting the reporting requirements of outside foundations and federal agencies.

Since 2009, the STUDIO has administered projects for more than three dozen professors, including faculty from every School within the College of Fine Arts, and beyond. In addition to supporting research projects by CFA faculty, the STUDIO also undertakes arts-research initiatives of its own, arising from the efforts and interests of the interdisciplinary crew of students, guests and others who inhabit the STUDIO space.

The FRFAF Grant Program

The STUDIO oversees an endowment, the Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art @ the Frontier (FRFAF), to encourage the creation of innovative artworks by the faculty, students and staff of Carnegie Mellon University. With this fund, the STUDIO seeks to develop a cache of groundbreaking projects created at CMU — works that can be described as “thinking at the edges” of the intersection of disciplines.

Any faculty member, student or staff-person actively affiliated with Carnegie Mellon is eligible to apply to the Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art @ the Frontier, regardless of their home department. This makes FRFAF one of the most flexible sources for funding project-based work on campus: it is the only grant available to any kind of applicant (including faculty, staff, students, collectives, or collaborations), at any level, from any department, for any conceivable project-related purpose. The FRFAF is furthermore able to support creative endeavors both outside and inside of conventional structures such as coursework, design hackathons, and funded research projects. Since the founding of the FRFAF in 2012, the STUDIO has disbursed 300 grants totaling more than $347,000.

Educational Programs

The STUDIO conducts free and low-cost public educational activities. These forums for the presentation and discussion of innovative work include a diverse array of lectures, exhibitions, workshops, concerts, conferences, performances, symposia, hack nights, and meetups. Some of these activities are organized in collaboration with other units at Carnegie Mellon, and others are initiated by the STUDIO itself. The STUDIO’s primary educational programs include the Sylvia and David Steiner Lecture Series in Creative Inquiry, and the STUDIO’s quasi-biennial, large-scale ART && CODE conference series, which has had four editions since 2009. In addition, the STUDIO has organized a series of leading-edge workshops on the use of machine learning in the arts.

ART && CODE is a series of events concerned with liberating the cultural and aesthetic potentials of emerging technologies. Half maker’s festival, half academic conference, the series’s aims to showcase independent and emerging voices, creative approaches, diverse and oftentimes marginalized perspectives, and imaginative and critical positions that depart from that depart from typical tech fantasies and other normative, corporate media. The symposiums often feature artist talks, speed presentations, technical workshops and demonstrations, discussion panels, a participant-driven unconference, and a public exhibition of new media works. Average attendance has ranged from 200 up to 350 participants, mixing together a unique group of artists, creatives, corporations, students and faculty. Since 2009, there have been four Art && Code conferences:

  • Art && Code: Programming Environments for Artists, Young People, and the Rest of Us (March 2009)
  • Mobile Art && Code: Artistic and Tactical Approaches to Mobile, Networked and Locative Media (November 2009)
  • Art && Code 3D: DIY 3D Sensing and Visualization (October 2011)
  • WEIRD REALITY: Head-Mounted Art && Code (October 2016)

Creatives-In-Residence Program

On its own and in close collaboration with other CMU departments and faculty, the STUDIO conducts a comprehensive program for hosting creatives-in-residence, offering stipends, facilities, and administrative assistance to artists and others whose work exemplifies new modes of artistic production. These residencies allow students to observe and participate in the creation of new culture — for example, through apprenticeships — in ways that are altogether complementary to their coursework.

The STUDIO has hosted more than 40 guest creatives-in-residence since 2013, generally for durations of 10 to 100 days. The funding sources which support these guests are diverse, ranging from grants raised by the STUDIO itself, to project grants raised by CMU faculty who are collaborating with a guest on active research.

Interdisciplinary Advocacy

The STUDIO agitates and advocates for interdisciplinary initiatives throughout the university.

Collaborative and Accessible Workspace

The STUDIO operates its 1800-square-foot facility as a flexible and adaptable “Third Space”: a deterritorialized incubator, oasis, and collaborative workspace for students from around CMU who seek a diverse community of creative minds and relief from disciplinary compartmentalization.