What do laser cutters and craft beer have in common? Grace Simonson.

A sculpture senior in the College of Art and Design, Simonson created a beer carrier for her home brews using laser cutting skills she learned in the college’s experimental Ways and Means course. Her six-pack carrier is one of a diverse set of items on display in the College of Art and Design’s Ways and Means exhibit.

The exhibit’s namesake course, led by instructor Paul Callahan, works to expose students to popular and emerging technologies that are changing how artists approach their studio practice. The technologies incorporated, including 3-D printers, laser cutters and CNC machines, can improve precision, production and prototyping, Callahan said.

The course highlights machines the college has begun acquiring through the use of grant funds, and new tools continue to be added to the mix almost monthly, Callahan said. Simonson is one of 14 students participating in the course’s maiden voyage.

The students in the course represent all walks of life and artistic disciplines, Callahan said. The diversity of the students’ experiences and approaches to the technologies was one of the most interesting parts of the course, he said.

The 14 students hail from locales as distant as Iran to as close as Mandeville, and they represent eight different majors and 10 different concentrations. Callahan said their diversity fostered a strong creative environment.

“I come from a certain background, so my mode of thinking was challenged, and it was nice to see them come from different perspectives but then also play off of one another’s ideas and be influenced by one another,” Callahan said.

Simonson said the diversity was especially beneficial during peer critiques because having fresh eyes on her work and a variety of perspectives challenged her to see things differently.

The variety of the work also benefits the exhibit’s viewers by exposing students to the range of possibilities capable with the new technologies. Laser cutting and 3-D printing aren’t limited to certain creative fields, Simonson said, and having the opportunity to see everything from clothing to ceramics created with these tools helped illustrate that point.

Both Callahan and Simonson said they hope students will be inspired to explore the course after viewing the exhibit. Being well-versed in emerging technologies is beneficial for those entering the job market, Callahan said.

Simonson said she entered the course feeling intimidated by the overwhelming creative potential of the machines. Now at the end, she said she feels confident in her knowledge of the machines and comfortable walking into a studio producing work using 3-D printers and other innovative machines.

Aside from job marketability, the knowledge the course imparts also challenges artists to think outside the box, Simonson said. Having the opportunity to become versed with the technologies in a learning environment reduced hesitation and encouraged the artists to explore new processes of creation, she said.

“I think this class is very important,” Simonson said. “It really bridges the gap between technology and art.”

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