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Tom Pearson Named Olin College Creative-in-Reference for 2019-2020

Tom Pearson, a founder and the co-artistic director of the New York City-based art organization Third Rail Projects, will be the second creative-in-reference at Olin College.

Pearson is an internationally renowned artist known for his site-specific and immersive performances, work that is a hybrid of dance, theater, environmental installation, and experience design. His company, Third Rail Projects, is dedicated to re-envisioning ways in which audiences engage with contemporary performance.  Third Rail Projects has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including two New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) Awards.

Third Rail Projects is perhaps best known for its long-running production “Then She Fell,” a rumination on love, loss, and duality that draws on the life and works of Lewis Carroll and offers a two-hour, intimate theatrical experience for only 15 audience members per performance.

Pearson’s work focuses on crafting engaging experiences that challenge audiences to go deeper into their own reflective space and to engage with the work on a meaningful, personal level. His creative process draws from depth psychology, archetypal studies, and deep-dream practices, as well as ceremony, ritual, and story as a reparative modality. 

The creative-in-reference at Olin College is a position established as part of a multistep $900,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation designed to better integrate the arts and humanities within a STEM education. The term “creative-in-reference” was developed at Olin to signify a variation on the traditional residency model, one in which residents foster a more community-facing role emphasizing inherently social and collaborative projects.

“I am thrilled by this opportunity to help foster a space where artistic inquiry and engineering can meet, influence, and challenge together in a shared creative practice,” said Pearson. “Olin College is a perfect incubator for experience design and the way we think about innovating along the lines of audience and user interactivity as well as ethics and responsibility.”

Pearson was recently named one of the 100 most influential people in Brooklyn culture by Brooklyn Magazine. He has been awarded fellowships from the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, CEC Artslink in Russia, and the Bogliasco Foundation in Italy.  

At Olin, Pearson will continue to develop a long-form project titled “Libraría,” which maps an idea of a colloquial unconscious through the dreams of local participants. A branch of the project will consist of a blend of digital and analog experiences, stories drawn from our most original inspirations in sleep or quiet contemplation, and assembled through art installation, film, objects, poetry, performance, and an overall experience design that allows audiences to engage directly with the artwork.

The canopy project for this work is called Sketch Model, an avenue through which the arts and humanities can do more probing and ambitious work with engineering, at Olin and beyond.

Sketch Model is funded by the Mellon Foundation grant to “broaden the experience and perspective of educators and learners by providing a series of intensive engagements aimed at [a] deep integration of arts, humanities and STEM.” In addition to the creative-in-reference, Olin students will be offered Arts + Action fellowships over several years to participate in summer internships with arts organizations or nonprofits dedicated to the humanities. A summer workshop has also been established for faculty from across STEM and the humanities at counterpart institutions to engage with STEM faculty in the collaborative design of transformative learning experiences.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have Tom Pearson join us at Olin next year as a creative on campus. There are so many aspects of theater that intersect with engineering practices, and there’s also much about the art form that’s a rich and productive departure from our technical domains,” said Sara Hendren, artist, designer and researcher-in-residence at Olin and principal investigator of the Mellon Foundation grant. “Tom’s presence is sure to be generative for the whole community.”

Olin College of Engineering was founded on the premise that engineers must design with people, not just for the sake of technology. Designing solutions with people and society calls for a deliberate and nuanced understanding of technology’s impact now and in the future. While Olin arts, humanities and STEM faculty have created some exemplary classroom experiences integrating liberal and technical learning, the Mellon Foundation’s grant will facilitate the development of new contexts and collaborative encounters that integrate arts, humanities, and technical learning on an unprecedented level within undergraduate curricula.