Photo by Samta Brahmbhatt

Art may often be perceived as an superfluous discipline, a field that has little application in the “real world” and that has no place at a tech school.

Art Matters, a student-run initiative that explores expression through creative and artistic experiences, seeks to change this mindset on Tech’s campus and rebrand “art” as a powerful tool used to view experiences, processes and ideas from different perspectives. The goals of Art Matters are to create enriching art experiences within Tech’s community, to provide a voice for the student artist community and to enhance the campus perception and actionable value of art.

Annie Son, fourth-year BA and president and founder of Art Matters, explained the organization’s origins and history.

“We actually started out as a think tank in the fall of 2015,” Son said. “It included both graduate and undergraduate students and Jennifer Kimball, the Office of the Arts student engagement coordinator at the time. We were all people that applied to be a part of this think tank because we represented different areas of campus and cared about the arts and how they could grow at Georgia Tech.”

The emergence of the organization was sparked by a mutual frustration with the lack of creativity and art on campus.

“We look for members that see this issue and wish to partake in how to fix it,” Son said. “To increase awareness, it can’t be just one way. We work hard to collaborate with other groups on campus, reach out to incoming students and really just connect with other groups and individuals that have an opinion. We don’t want to get lost in one way of thinking or ever think that what we’re doing is the end all, be all solution.”

The think tank sessions led by Walter Ley, ‘17 EE, consisted of discussions on the topic of current arts ethos on campus, what already exists, the gaps, issues and disconnects and what the best methods and potential solutions would be moving forward.

“It was a really great year of seeking understanding and gathering information so that we could get the fullest picture of the situation,” Son said.

The semester of spring 2016 saw the end of the sessions, with the members of Art Matters feeling that they had gathered enough information in order to piece together an initiative that was meaningful and relevant.

“As it was wrapping up that semester, I worked with Jennifer Kimball to start up a more action-oriented student group to implement the solutions the Think Tank developed,” Son said. “We worked very closely together and so this group naturally became a part of the Office of the Arts called [email protected] Ambassadors.” In spring 2017, the organization became more formal, and the official name was changed to Art Matters.

While some of the students that make up Art Matters are artists themselves, the organization is not necessarily a group of artists. However, they do unite for a common cause — to provide support and a voice for the student artist community and to encourage participation in enriching experiences in the arts for the greater Tech community in an effort to not let Tech’s academic rigor deter students from exploring more artistic forms of expression.

“We are a group of students that strives to see Georgia Tech with a stronger arts presence and focus than it currently does today,” Son said. “We believe that incorporating more creativity and arts into different facets of Georgia Tech will strengthen the Institute’s ability to develop a more holistic graduate that can think about any situation through multiple lenses.

“Also, countless students come to Georgia Tech that already pursue creative endeavors, but often times either drop it while in college or do it individually on their own. We want to provide these students with the resources necessary to continue pursuing their interests and feel like those pursuits are part of the Georgia Tech experience, not just something they struggle to do on the side in addition to their academic workload. We also want to open new doors and perspectives for students that have never considered themselves artistic or creative by providing more opportunities to learn new skills and collaborate with others.”

Art Matters is separated into five different teams that focus on different solutions and core areas that were identified in the initial Think Tank, including Public Art, Arts Community and Arts + Academics.

“These teams hone in on their respective areas so that we can simultaneously strengthen the arts presence on campus,” said Son.

Another is the Marketing + Design team, which allows Art Matters to develop its programming and grow the Art Matters brand. The fifth team, Why Arts, was created last semester in order to ground the organization and articulate the value of arts to a technical campus.

“Even at the most technical institute in the world, arts are going to be there,” Son said, speaking on the topic of the importance of art to Tech’s campus community. “It’s important for those individuals creating art — either on the side or through their academics — to feel supported and feel a part of Georgia Tech … STEM and the arts are not separate things but rather parts of one whole. I like this one quote I stumbled across last year: ‘Science can be thought of as providing answers to questions. It’s art, or thinking creatively, that asks such questions in the first place.’”

Within Art Matters’ short time on campus so far, the organization has jump-started four major projects.

“One of our very first projects was the Piano Project,” Son said. “We brought an ID class’s piano proposal to life by taking a piano from Habitat for Humanity ReStore, painting it with chalkboard paint and stenciling on a design. We had it outside for a week during the week before finals for students to de-stress and have a good time, and if they didn’t know how to play piano they could still engage with the piece and de-stress by coloring in the design. We ended that project with a concert on the Clough rooftop with a really great variety of performances that led to some beautiful impromptu collaborations — from classical pieces to impromptu piano beatboxing duos, to songs from musicals with vocals.”

Other initiatives include ArtHacks, a free twelve-hour artistic marathon that allows cross-medium collaboration with other student artists who can also attend workshops by professional artists and creators. Art Matters also hosts a bi-weekly Coffee + Art at Under the Couch, which is open to everyone who wants to enjoy coffee and discussions about art.

“I want Art Matters to scale in a sustainable manner so that we can truly and wholeheartedly work on all the projects we can,” Son said, speaking on the future of the organization. “We serve the entire campus, so I want us to be able to secure reliable funding each year so that we can continue to serve. I am happy that in the past few years, there have been more and more conversations on the student, faculty and administrative level about the importance of arts and incorporating them into the Institute, but I want to look forward and see how we can make it so that people think of Georgia Tech as a leader in STEM because it is an environment that nourishes different experiences and skills beyond STEM.”