eDream Director Donna Cox's own doctoral work advocated
for the value and nature of scientific visualization as art

ILLINOIS OFFERS NEW PHD IN INFORMATICS—a unique research degree defined by applying innovative computational methods to advance existing or new fields of inquiry.
"This degree allows faculty and students the utmost flexibility and support to design and conduct innovative computationally-informed research at the cutting edge of many fields, and to lead in the creation of entirely new areas of study." Professor Garnett, School of Music, Director of Research for eDREAM Institute, Institute for Advanced Computer Applications and Technologies, National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Dr. Garnett's overview of the Illinois Informatics PhD presented to the Greenovation workshop March 30, 2011.

The initial fields include:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Medical Informatics
  • Spatial Informatics
  • Art and Cultural Informatics
  • Design, Technology, and Society
  • Data Analytics and Information Visualization
  • Cognitive Science and Language Processing

Some highlights of the program include:

  • Individually tailored, student-centric study
  • Renowned faculty from across the entire campus and a wide disciplinary spectrum
  • World class computing resources
  • Fellowships and Assistantships are available for the most qualified applicants

The program is admitting current University of Illinois graduate students for Fall 2011 and is recruiting worldwide for its Fall 2012 class. Imaginative, highly motivated students in the above areas or novel areas are encouraged to apply.

The PhD is administered by the Illinois Informatics Institute, which also offers the undergraduate Minor in Informatics and coordinates the MS in Bioinformatics; coordinated intellectually and championed fiscally by the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute (eDream).  eDream’s Director, Dr. Donna Cox, Michael Aiken Professor of Art and Design, and Associate Director, Dr. Guy Garnett, will lead efforts to recruit doctoral candidates and arrange their access to faculty mentors and interdepartmental programs, equipment and studio-lab facilities, and funding.

The Informatics Ph.D. in Art and Culture defines the arts broadly, emphasizing the experimental aesthetics of fine arts within the visual and performing arts, and embraces informatics in the form of emergent computing technologies—hardware or software—that are used to transform aesthetic practices or that are transformed by them. The doctorate will culminate in a capstone project that combines a demonstration of practice-based research in digital arts media with a dissertation that explains the value of the original creative production within the context of arts practices and cultural theories. The practice-based, studio-art Ph.D., which is relatively new to the United States, serves as the organizing inspiration for the Ph.D. in Informatics in Arts and Culture. The program envisioned here is distinct from most existing practice-based doctorates in the arts that now exist in the United States, which tend to be offered within discrete disciplines (such the Doctor of Music Arts); incorporate digital media in a more conventional way to support creativity rather than constitute emergent creative practices (such as through architecture’s use of CAD/CAM technologies); and require a less sustained and critically-informed written component.

If you'd like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with faculty, please contact Karin Readel 217-244-1220


The Ph.D. in Informatics in Arts and Culture is a very selective, highly competitive program with a special strength in faculty of outstanding reputation in “arts and technology” research and practice. The program will accept a limited number of candidates, just one or two per year, who are chosen for their creative vision and special combination of existing skills and knowledge (which may be rooted in backgrounds ranging from engineering to social sciences to humanities to arts). They will join a program that springs from the University of Illinois’ special legacy of culturally transformative, hybrid “arts and technology” innovation, which most recently took the form of the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Human Creativity–now institutionalized as eDream. A number of faculty members (including Donna Cox, Guy Garnett, John Toenjes, Mike Ross, Stephen Taylor, Nan Goggin, Jerry Guthrie, George Frances, Dianne Harris, Deana McDonagh, Michael Twidale, Karrie Karahalios, Kathleen Harleman, Roy Campbell, Sever Tipei, and John Hart) are currently engaged in this area, with more likely to become involved as the program grows.

In addition to working with “arts and technology” faculty, doctoral candidates will work with other area faculty from the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA), which is committed to exploring synergies with technology across arts practice ( This commitment is evident in FAA’s fifty-year history of leadership and excellence in electroacoustic music, its School of Art and Design’s recent offering of an MFA in New Media, and its expressed mission of “exploring the intersection of art and technology and its impact on our culture…Through interdisciplinary collaborations and individual work, students and faculty in the College’s units not only promote proficiency in working with technology, they also deepen the understanding of the meaning and role of technology within the larger context of the arts.” FAA is a recognized national leader in graduate arts education, currently offering doctoral degrees in the fields of Art Education, Art History, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Music Education, Music Arts, Musicology, Theater History, and Regional Planning.

Doctoral candidates will also have the opportunity to study under and collaborate with world-class faculty from across campus, especially from the Colleges of Engineering, Media, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. To deepen research opportunities for students and collaborating faculty, eDream leadership has already established a strong connection to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’s (NCSA) Institute for Advanced Computing Applications and Technologies (IACAT) Creativity and Computing research theme, and is working to establish relationships with a number of related campus centers and initiatives, including the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) and the Institute for Computing in the Humanities Arts and Social Sciences (ICHASS).

Doctoral candidates will also engage with visiting “arts and technology” theorists and practitioners from around the world. They will be invited to learn from and collaborate with the many leading scholars and artists who are invited to the University of Illinois each year to give lectures and workshops and participate in residencies–particularly those sponsored by eDream, IACAT, KCPA, and related campus initiatives and institutions (such as Krannert Museum of Art and Spurlock Museum). These activities are already underway, only requiring advanced students to enrich them and be enriched by them.


The program will attract top-quality students because it is breaking new ground in the United States while contributing to the rise of a global arts research community. Just fifteen “arts and technology” doctoral programs are offered currently in the United States.

eDream: Realizing Arts Futures

Since the M.F.A. degree has long been accepted as an adequate terminal degree for university instructors in the United States who teach in the fine arts, advanced studies in the visual arts have lagged behind when compared with Europe and other nations influenced by the European model. Gradually, this is beginning to change. Timothy Emlyn Jones reports that in 2003 resistance in the U.S. to a fine-arts doctorate was widespread within higher education in the arts. By 2006, the mood was more accepting: “some universities had already accredited PhDs in studio art and media, and many more, including some of America’s most prestigious independent art schools, were deeply engaged in developing them.” Meanwhile, the practice-based studio-art doctorate has “now become commonplace” in the “rest of the English-speaking world [which did not have an M.F.A. tradition]…the introduction of studio-art doctorates in many countries in Europe, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and China, ha[s] brought fine-art education to its coming of age, on par with and different from other university-level disciplines." “It is…of considerable interest how the American doctorate might differ from and surpass its U.K. counterpart” (Art Journal 65.2, Summer 2006: 124-127). Doctoral degree completions in the UK and US have steadily risen since the 1970s, a trend that indicates student interest in continuing arts studies.

The program at University of Illinois will help to grow advanced research within U.S. and world visual arts practice, but it will also stand out through offering an interdisciplinary arts focus. Competing “arts and technology” programs are not always interdisciplinary; some continue to focus on primary or discrete areas of arts practice. Additionally, the University of Illinois’ program will stand out through offering particular areas of emphasis that do not exist elsewhere, such as digital cultural heritage as an artistic expression and cinematic scientific visualization for public engagement.

The doctoral program will also attract advanced students through the University’s unique combination of assets. The University of Illinois ranks as one of most technologically advanced universities in the world (most wired US college [Wired 2008]), with an internationally recognized strength in engineering and commitment to information science (e.g., number-one ranked Graduate School of Library and Information Science, cross-campus Illinois Informatics Institute). The University is also home to the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (KCPA), with which the program is already closely associated. NCSA and KCPA are world-class institutions that offer students the opportunity to work with faculty and professionals across a range of expertise and to showcase their work before already established audiences. The two institutions will soon be networked for real-time artistic collaborations between Krannert’s stages and NCSA’s Creativity Space studio-lab. The Creativity Space (NCSA Rm. 2103) will be available for student research; it provides capabilities such as high-speed networking; access to research networks; motion tracking arrays; and a three-screen, high-definition theater.