This summer, the University of Illinois Press is publishing an extraordinary volume chronicling the work of women in the digital arts in the Midwest. Through profiles and oral histories of nearly two dozen artists, New Media Futures: The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts reveals the wealth of women’s creative experiments in the digital domain, including collage and montage, video art and filmmaking, interactive and Internet-based artworks, digital imaging for medical uses, interactive theater and electronic games, and holographic installations and sculptures, to mention only a few.
The book focuses on the formative years, from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when the so-called Silicon Prairie developed along an axis from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, with its state-of-the-art programs and facilities in computer science, to Chicago, with its diverse arts community, art institutions, galleries, and art education facilities. In this rich soil, women artists and computer scientists thrived, fostering innovation in computermediated creative media and developing political strategies for collaboration.
“One important characteristic of a successful collaboration is that members are motivated by a common goal. They need mutual respect for each other. Each member needs to benefit, get appropriate credit, and be rewarded within his/her peer system. Feminism was about women becoming equal partners with men.” —Donna J. Cox, volume editor and director of the University of Illinois’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory at NCSA
At UIUC, collaboration took the form of “Renaissance Teams” of artists, technologists, and scientists. The fruits of these creative teams included the first visual browser, Mosaic; the virtual reality environment CAVE; and other innovations. The Renaissance Teams concept (a term coined by Donna J. Cox) brought women’s intuitive understanding of the collaborative process together with ideas about collaboration from the domain of scientists and engineers. Hats off to these pioneering women and the path they have laid for creativity, collaboration, and equal inclusion and recognition of women in technology and the arts.