UF College of the Arts welcomes ‘AI and the Arts’ faculty cohort to lead research, curriculum, creative practice and interdisciplinary exploration

By Brandon McKinley

Four artists and creative technologists join the University of Florida College of the Arts to lead scholarly and creative research in artificial intelligence and the arts.  

After an international search process, the College of the Arts welcomes Heidi BoisvertTina TallonFatimah Tuggar, and Amelia Winger-Bearskin to professorships in AI and the Arts this fall. The cohort represents a variety of artistic and creative disciplines, with each member appointed to a different school or institute within the college.

AI and the Arts Faculty Cohort

Heidi Boisvert
Assistant Professor of AI and the Arts: Immersive Performance Technologies
School of Theatre and Dance

Tina Tallon
Assistant Professor of AI and the Arts: Music Composition
School of Music

Fatimah Tuggar
Associate Professor of AI and the Arts: Art and Global Equity
School of Art and Art History

Amelia Winger-Bearskin
Banks Preeminence Chair
Associate Professor of AI and the Arts: Digital Arts and Sciences
Digital Worlds Institute

As a cohort, they will help shape the college’s contributions to the University of Florida’s AI initiative, according to College of the Arts Dean Onye Ozuzu.  

“I see this cohort of four new members of our faculty, dispersed as they are in four distinct units of the college, as the core of a groundbreaking opportunity for the College of the Arts to lead in the context of UF’s focus on the development of artificial intelligence,” Ozuzu says.  

In 2020, the University of Florida announced its initiative to become a national leader in the application of AI. Through a public-private partnership with UF alumnus Chris Malachowsky and NVIDIA, the Silicon Valley-based technology company he cofounded, the university acquired the world’s fastest AI supercomputer in higher education. The initiative included a commitment to hiring 100 faculty members focused on AI.  

The College of the Arts seeks to explore how artistic practices—such as critique, improvisation, and a focus on process over product—can inform how artificial intelligence is cultivated and used and how its influence on society is designed.  

“The arts allow us to examine our world and fashion possible futures,” says Amelia Winger-Bearskin, who joins the UF Digital Worlds Institute as Associate Professor of AI and the Arts: Digital Arts and Sciences. “The arts can also guide us as we imbue technology with our own ethics and values as we work together to realize the dreams of AI.”  

Winger-Bearskin is also appointed as a Banks Preeminence Chair, an endowed faculty position made possible by Andrew and Pamela Banks and their family to advance teaching, research, and academic programs.  

“I am excited to join the community of excellence at the University of Florida and continue innovating with artificial intelligence in ways that make a positive impact on our community and the environment,” Winger-Bearskin says.  

The cohort will work to craft AI-related curricula in the College of the Arts.  

Heidi Boisvert, who joins the UF School of Theatre and Dance as Assistant Professor of AI and the Arts: Immersive Performance Technologies, says she looks forward to building curriculum that reflects artists’ responsibility to advance equity and access in the context of artificial intelligence.  

“As artists and creative technologists working with AI, machine learning, natural language processing, synthetic media and more, we have a responsibility to ensure that these emerging technologies become more accessible and inclusive for diverse communities, are grounded in ethics, and are implemented for societal good, not corporate profit or systems of oppression,” Boisvert says. “I am excited to co-design a curriculum that reflects these values and encourages students across the College of the Arts to become provocateurs and gadflies challenging the trajectory of future technology through critical discourse, artistic expression, open-source invention, and social impact.” 

The University of Florida is among the nation’s first to integrate AI across all disciplines and make it a ubiquitous part of the academic enterprise. The university’s vision includes ensuring every UF student develops a basic competency in AI regardless of their field of study.  

“I am enthusiastic about working with students on algorithmic literacy and transparency,” says Fatimah Tuggar, who joins the UF School of Art and Art History as Associate Professor of AI and the Arts: Art and Global Equity. “Positively, this will lead to students creating artworks using AI that avoid the traps of applying technological answers to aesthetic questions and grounding students in developing more empathy and contextual awareness for humanity, other life forms, and the environment.”  

Researchers and artists at the College of the Arts began working on AI-related projects in recent years, including work focused on utilizing AI to classify and analyze human motion.  

Associate Professor Angelos Barmpoutis and Maker in Residence Qudus Onikeku each lead projects that explore machine learning’s capacity to codify human motion and dance movements. Their projects have implications for the future of clinical and telehealth settings, orthopedic centers, choreographic practice, and cross-cultural movement analysis, which has the capacity to address racial inequities and cultural appropriation and to revolutionize intellectual property laws and the attendant economic benefits to creatives. 

This past year, administrators and faculty began envisioning what the future of AI research and curriculum could look like at the College of the Arts. In January, the UF Center for Arts, Migration, and Entrepreneurship (CAME) hosted a convening with AI 4 Afrika, a cross-sectoral ‘think and do’ consortium dedicated to the inclusion of African talent and perspective in the development trajectory of artificial intelligence. In March, the college held an AI symposium, facilitated by Kamal Sinclair, Executive Director of the Guild of Future Architects, and a discussion exploring improvisation, race, and AI and their evolving influence on art and creative practice, led by Assistant Professor Richard Pellegrin.  

Oṣubi Craig, the director of CAME, says these partnerships with global initiatives and a willingness and curiosity to engage have inspired new questions for faculty and staff at the college.  

“Our faculty are the experts in possibility, probing with questions to focus the lens of invention towards experience that centers human beings.,” Craig says. “We are less interested in machines mimicking things we have done and more interested in exploring what we might do next. We are engaging in a global dialogue, hosting critical conversations about culture and inclusion at the level of data.” 

The College of the Arts “AI and the Arts” faculty will collaborate within their artistic disciplines, across the college, and throughout the university as part of a campus-wide AI and Society cohort, which will include faculty from the Warrington College of Business, College of Education, College of Health and Human Performance, Levin College of Law, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Florida Museum, and Smathers Libraries.  

Tina Tallon joins the UF School of Music as Assistant Professor of AI and the Arts: Music Composition and says she looks forward to being in an interdisciplinary environment that engages multiple aspects of her professional expertise.  

“I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to find one’s ‘dream job’ until UF announced this initiative,” Tallon says. “Its highly interdisciplinary nature allows me to fully embrace all the different facets of my work as an artist, engineer, historian, and educator in service of society, which I’ve never found space to do anywhere else.”

Tallon adds that defining the future of AI is an opportunity to bring together important perspectives.

“Humanity is at a critical point on many fronts but especially so in terms of how we technologically mediate our future on this planet,” she says. “We need to ensure that everyone—particularly those who have previously been silenced by structural inequity—is engaged in conversations about how to design, implement, and contextualize the AI tools that increasingly influence our everyday lives. I am thrilled to have the privilege of working alongside such incredible colleagues to help shape a program that makes space for everyone to bring all of who they are to the table and to train students across disciplines to identify and innovate ways in which they can use their skills and experiences to create a more just and equitable future.”

This story originally appeared on UF College of the Arts.

Check out other stories on the UF AI Initiative.