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Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Groundbreaking for the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC)
Folsom Library, RPI, Troy, New York

Friday, September 19, 2003

Good afternoon.

This is an auspicious day for Rensselaer, for it marks another beginning, as we gather to break ground for the new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. It signals another development in the Renaissance at Rensselaer — a new enrichment of campus life and of the student experience.

As both a signature work of architecture as well as a tool for programs, this building will provide artists, researchers, and audiences with opportunities — under a single roof — that are found nowhere else in the world.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize those who provided support of this exciting new project in its earliest stages, through their substantial and very meaningful gifts — the late David Goodman, of the Class of 1939, and Veronica and Curtis Priem, of the Class of 1982.

We are grateful for their enthusiasm and for their vision.

As you know, the enhancement of the experience of our students, our faculty, and our staff is among our highest priorities as we implement The Rensselaer Plan. This experimental media and performing arts center will showcase our distinctive performing arts programs, and it will provide a facility through which we may broaden campus discourse and allow us to fully engage the larger community in the performing arts.

The construction of this new Rensselaer landmark, joined with the new Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies rising to the east of us, marks the re-creation of Rensselaer as a university for the 21st century — and follows in the Rensselaer tradition of building for the future — begun 100 years ago by my predecessor, the "great constructor," Palmer Chamberlaine Ricketts, the 11th president of Rensselaer.

Not only did Ricketts build the "Green Roof" campus stone by stone, he led the effort to broaden and to diversify the curriculum. He recognized nearly 100 years ago that our technological graduates needed a broader and more humanistic approach to knowledge, and he began to bring flexibility to a Rensselaer education.

Today, at the turn of the 21st century, our campus expands again to meet the needs of our rapidly changing world — in biotechnology, in information technology, and more: in the creation of new, multidisciplinary areas of study, and in the discovery of new, cross-disciplinary methods of problem-solving, and in creative and artistic thought.

We are creating a campus that will provide a rich and fertile intellectual — and physical — environment for the motivated and talented young people we enroll as students. We want them to feel a part of an attractive, vibrant campus community where they can engage with faculty and researchers both in the classroom in other, more social venues.

We want our graduates to leave with a global outlook, rooted with a sense of their heritage as Rensselaer alumni.

Our students arrive on campus, as they did just a few short weeks ago, young and eager to grow. We want their university experience to be a phase in their lives when they can grow to understand their character, for themselves and in relation to others. We want them to design their own destiny.

The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center — or in its acronym, "EMPAC" — will indeed have an "impact" on student life. It will be a place for artistic performance and for creativity. It will provide a performing arts center that we have never had on this campus. Its beautiful spaces will become a campus gathering space — a place to simply "be."

It will become a signature space for the Rensselaer campus, one which will support important events such as our academic convocations, a place where we can host important guests — perhaps including Presidential debates, or public figures of national and international reputation.

EMPAC will be led by its director, Johannes Goebel, a respected curator and a renowned composer of electronic music, who holds a tenured position as professor in both the Arts Department as well as in the School of Architecture. He shall lead EMPAC to become a nexus of technology and the arts — through its facilities and through its programs.

EMPAC will support our academic programs in electronic and performing arts. It will serve, as well, as a research platform, with tremendous possibilities to combine technology, science, and the arts.

You will hear more from Johannes shortly, as well as from several of our partners in this unprecedented new venture — among them, professor John Tichy of the department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering, who served as chair of the Task Force for the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer student Michael Brown.

You also will hear today from Andrew Whalley, director, of the architectural firm, Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners of London and USA. Also with us today are Vincent Change, Paulo DeSaria, William Horgan, Mark Husser, Junko Nakagawa, and Juan Porral Hermida. I ask that the representatives from Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners please stand and be recognized.

I would now like to recognize another one of our speakers, J. Max Bond, Jr., partner in the firm, Davis Brody Bond of New York. With him today is Will Paxon. I ask that they stand so we may recognize them.

You will hear as well from R. Lawrence Kirkegaard, president and principal consultant of the acoustic design firm of Kirkegaard Associates. Joining him today is Rogene Kirkegaard. Please stand so we may recognize you.

To speak to us about theater design, we have with us today Peter Rosenbaum, an associate with Fisher Dachs Associates; please stand so we may recognize you.

Also seated in our VIP section are representatives from the following consulting firms, individuals who have played a major role in this project. I ask that you stand at your seats when I call your names; please hold your applause until the end.

  • From Clough, Harbour & Associates: Sam Bennett and Philip Koziol.
  • From Tishman Construction Corporation: Dan McQuade, Jim Diamantopolous, Tom Hoban, John Lassiter, and Dennis Rawley.
  • From Buro Happold Consulting Engineers: Oliver Osterwind (Rensselaer Class of 2000) and Craig Schwitter.
  • From the Kreisberg Group: Anne Lundberg and Claire Whittaker.
  • From Donnell Consultants: Joseph Perryman.

We are honored, as well, to have with us today Congressman Michael McNulty, who, in a few moments, will share some remarks. We are honored as well to have with us Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino, Mark Pattison, Mayor of the City of Troy, and Troy City Councilman Mark Wojcik.

This structure will be a space built to feed the soul and to inspire the mind — for inspiration is what drives both the artist and the scientist. Great spaces can set the stage, provide the forum, and kindle the creative process both for the individual and for common purpose — for it is in coming together in concert with others that we create experience larger than ourselves.

EMPAC is a statement drawing on our technological roots to bend our definition of who we are.

Rensselaer has taken a long road during its 179 years, a road that has broadened, yet we have stayed true to the course of providing education for the common purposes of life.

I submit that, now, our road takes a new bend, and that we bend our definition of who we are as a university. The word "university" comes from the Latin universitas, which means "the whole; total; the universe, the world." The university must consider the world, consider the future, and create new knowledge.

We turn toward a new exploration that encompasses the wider world and the world within us, from the great expanse of space to the smallest physical particle, from the most sophisticated technology to the meditation inspired by deep listening.

For as our knowledge grows, the distance among us on this planet must grow smaller.

We are a steward of the present, and a builder of the future, with an unbroken bond with the innovators of our Rensselaer heritage, those for whom imagination achieves the impossible.

At this university, we can do no less.

Today, we will break the earth upon which we will build the foundation of this facility — and the next step toward our future.

This day — this act — symbolizes our commitment to excellence as a university, and to excellence in the Rensselaer experience.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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