Around the Studio: Getting Involved in Digital Arts Education

by Emily Twaddell

Think back to your high school years.

For some of you, that might mean fairly recent memory, while others may recall learning to type before it was called keyboarding. Despite generational differences, however, we all share a passion for beautiful design whether that means elegant code, minimalist UI, DfX, or perfect coffee. We build our careers through curiosity and ingenuity, a willingness to take risks and fail, and a love of challenging problems. We may have majored in engineering or psychology, or graphic design and sculpture. We see the world and its conundrums in myriad dimensions.

Our commonality is the tools that we use. Pencils. Markers. Scanners, Photoshop and InDesign, CAD, plotters, Git, and, of course, computers. None of it happens without computers. Depending on your age and, to some degree, where you grew up, the majority of readers here had some exposure to computers during your formal education.

Well, that’s obvious, you say. What’s your point?

The point is that at the secondary level, technology is still a luxury in many of the nation’s schools. In fact, it is a deficit at all levels, but for kids preparing to enter post-secondary educational programs or the workforce, this is a particularly dire issue. So, when the Arlington Education Foundation(AEF) approached Involution Studios with an opportunity to help, we were happy to step up. 

AEF has been behind a number of technology initiatives in the Arlington schools over the years. Last year, they funded a pilot “mini digital studio” for the Visual Arts department at the high school and now the goal is to raise $50k for a fully equipped studio. 


The AEF’s “mini-studio” grants funded a 27” iMac and a professional-level NEC monitor.  While it isn’t much, this equipment transformed the visual arts department, which previously had only a single dated laptop for all digital imaging projects—for over 75 students

Since Invo has had a great working relationship with the town through Arlington Visual Budget, AEF Treasurer Annie LaCourt asked if the studio would host the fundraising event. Our central location and beautiful antique ballroom provided the perfect spot for the nearly 50 dedicated philanthropists who attended on 29 January (two days after the blizzard of 2015). We set up our monitors to display student work, rearranged tables and desks to make room, and set out enough food to feed an army.


The studio allowed plenty of space for people to circulate, talk, view student demonstrations and displayed artwork, while getting a feel for the working design studio that is literally down the street from where they live and work.

Along with school representatives and teachers, Juhan Sonin spoke about the importance of integrating design and engineering, reminding attendees of the demand for digital artists with strong technical backgrounds in companies from Boston to Silicon Valley. We also provided Design Axioms to give attendees a better understanding of the principles and skills that students could learn through solving the same types of problems that “real-world” designers face. Above all, hosting such an event in a working design studio, in a life-laboratory where people make a living doing the things that the art teachers described, seemed to be the best way that Invo could contribute. 


Arlington Selectman Joe Curro (right), a knowledge worker himself, enjoyed the opportunity to talk shop with Juhan.

The digital-arts studio at the high school will support student work in animation, documentary filmmaking, corporate branding and digital design, among many other areas. The effort is part of a larger vision to bring to reality the schools’ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) integrated curriculum. As Arlington schools’ Director of Visual Arts David Ardito phrased it, “the new digital arts studio would be an idea imagination laboratory when students create something from nothing. This studio will open doors for integrating science, math, and art, turning STEM to STEAM.”

We like the sound of that.

Learn more about the AEF Technology Initiative.


Topics: culture of learning, education, STEAM