Making a Better World | Arts Innovation

The arts at MIT are rooted in experimentation, risk-taking, and imaginative problem-solving. An exemplar of the Institute's "mens et manus" motto, the arts also embody the human, aesthetic, and social dimensions of MIT's research and innovation.

Imaginative problem-solving

MIT-SHASS is home to the literary, musical, and theater arts at MIT. In collaboration with SA+P and the Office of the Arts, MIT SHASS also orchestrates the MIT Center for Art, Technology, and Science (MIT CAST), which focuses on works at the intersection of art, science, and technology. 

"Aesthetics present a completely distinct realm of inquiry and knowledge-creation," writes Aditi Mehta for MIT's Community Innovators Lab. "It is a way of creating familiarity with and empathy for realities not captured by conventional forms of data or comprehended by scientific explanation, particularly those involving conflicts of culture, identity, and experience. Disciplines such as fiction writing, film, photography, music, and sculpture can help us know places and people better, as well as facilitate connection and understanding between individuals."


Selected Stories

The 2023 cohort with Prof. Helen Elaine Lee (left) and guide Pedro Moreira (center) at the Rio Museum of Art

MIT SHASS undergraduates study race, place, and modernity in Brazil

MIT undergraduates visit São Paulo for the Independent Activities Period (IAP) subject “Race, Place, and Modernity in the Americas.

Spider Swing: A Video Animation

MIT UROP team adapts the first movement of acclaimed MIT composer Elena Ruehr’s Eighth String Quartet.


Symphony No.4 by Charles Shadle | Composer's Commentary

Program notes and composer's commentary for the world premiere of Shadle's Symphony No.4  

Portrait of MIT composer Elena Ruehr


Turning emotion into sound

In "Requiem," composer Elena Ruehr honors both personal and global losses. Of the Mozart and Brahms requiems that she treasures, Ruehr says: "To me these great works of art are noble because they express the sorrow of loss but also celebrate the beauty of life."

Sunset with Soundwave overlay


The Sound of a Sunset

The MIT Digital Humanities Lab unveils its Sonification Toolkit. Created by MIT students in the Digital Humanities Lab, the Toolkit is a set of digital tools that enable conversion of almost anything — from data to drawings — into sound that is aesthetically satisfying and analytically illuminating.

portrait of Terri Lyne Carrington


Advancing social justice through music and media

It Must Be Now! explores subject matter that includes institutional racism; environmental, economic, gender, and health injustices; police brutality; and abolitionism.

A new act for opera

Emily Richmond Pollock’s book examines creative attempts to refashion postwar opera after Germany’s “Year Zero.”

DJ Rekha Malhotra as a cultural curator

Graduate student and New York City DJ draws inspiration from the intersection of art and activism.

The chemist and the stage

Senior chemistry major, athlete, and artist Audrey Pillsbury creates a musical about life as a second-generation Asian-American.

Ivy Li '20

Picturing The Faerie Queene

Ivy Li '20 adapts Edmund Spenser's epic poem into a graphic comic.

Ken Urban MIT playwright


3 Questions with MIT playwright Ken Urban
On theater, science, and the Playwright's Lab

"Understanding others is crucial right now. Of course, understanding is not the same as forgiving or ignoring conflict. But you cannot write convincingly until you care about people who are different from you. That’s what being a playwright has taught me." 

How writing technology shaped classical thinking

Stephanie Frampton’s new book explores the written word in the Roman world.

sound wave and music tech gear


Music technology accelerates at MIT

An increasingly popular program is drawing students eager to build — and use — the next generation of tools for making music.

laughing room poster


Inside The Laughing Room

An AI-powered laugh track amuses and unsettles in interactive installation. A work by Jonny Sun in collaboration with Hannah Davis, Christopher Sun, and MIT associate professor of literature Stephanie Frampton, head of the ARTificial Intelligence project  

MIT ranked No.2 university worldwide for Arts and Humanities - 2019

MIT has been rated No.2 worldwide in the "Arts and Humanities" subject category in the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The ranking is based on an evaluation of the disciplines located in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — and in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. 

David Deveau blends old Europe and contemporary Cambridge

Pianist Deveau’s latest album interprets works by Beethoven, Mozart, and MIT’s own John Harbison.


What Paris shows us about photography

In The Cliché of History, Catherine Clark develops a new narrative about photography and how it influences history, memory, and identity.

Sandra Rodriguez


Hacking virtual reality | CMS.339

Contributing to a culture of pioneers, MIT students in "Virtual Reality and Immersive Media Production" explore the technical, philosophical, and artful dimensions of VR.

3Q: T.L. Taylor on diversity in e-sports

MIT sociologist’s “AnyKey” initiative aims to level the playing field of online sports.

Q&A: Jay Scheib on theater, daring, and love

MIT theater professor directs award-winning rock musical; in December 2017, his "Bat out of Hell" won the London Evening Standard Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical.

New era for MIT theater opens with Everybody, a morality play for our time

Everybody is a brand-new 2017 play based on the venerable 15th century English morality play, Everyman. As performed last week at MIT, Everybody at once updates a masterwork from the distant past, and represents the future — the great range of new arts opportunities that the new Building W97 is making possible at MIT.


MIT named No. 2 university worldwide for the Arts and Humanities - 2018

At MIT, two schools — the School of Architecture and Planning, and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences — and several centers are home to the arts and humanities.

Entrance to W97 MIT Theater Building

The Next Act for MIT Theater

A warehouse at 345 Vassar Street has been converted into an ingenious 25,000-square-foot performing arts building for MIT and its flourishing Theater Arts program. The flexible space can accommodate diverse forms of stagecraft, productions, and new theater technologies.  


"Imagination Off The Charts" debuts at MIT

A new documentary film, "Imagination Off the Charts: Jacob Collier Comes to MIT," highlights a Grammy-winning musician’s innovative relationship with MIT. The film debuts on Friday, Sept 8, Room 10-250, 7pm.

actress from Einstein's Dream play


Practicum: Directing Einstein's Dreams

Neerja Aggarwal, SB ’17, MEng ’18, discusses the rewards and challenges of directing Einstein's Dreams, an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by MIT faculty member and author, Alan Lightman. 


Song of the Human: A musical work inspired by Shigeru Miyagawa's research

New work by composer Pete M. Wyer draws inspiration from MIT linguistic scholar Shigeru Miyagawa's hypothesis on the origins of human language: "Human speech can be quite musical — there's pitch, rhythm, tone and dynamics — and if one removes words, what's left is the song of the human, and it's remarkably similar to birdsong." 


Gamma Sonification: MIT students make music from particle energy

Midway through Keeril Makan's “Introduction to Composition” class, three MIT nuclear engineering students had invented a technique to sonify, or create sound, from the energy of the decaying atom.


Seeking Big Answers: What is Art?

PhD student Rebecca Millsop uses philosophy to take on contentious questions about how we define art. The starting point of her quest came from an unlikely place: biology.

A.R. Gurney, playwright and author

A.R."Pete" Gurney, Jr., acclaimed playwright, author, and longtime MIT SHASS professor, dies at 86.

An MIT SHASS humanities and literature faculty member for 36 years, Gurney was known as an outstanding teacher and inspiring mentor.


Walley and Boebel receive $195k NEH grant for the Exit Zero Project

Christine Walley, Professor of Anthropology, and MIT-based filmmaker Chris Boebel have been awarded a $195,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the digitization of archives and the Exit Zero Project website.


Vivek Bald awarded the 2017 Levitan Prize in the Humanities and a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship

Associate Professor Vivek Bald of Comparative Media Studies/Writing has been awarded the 2017 Levitan Prize in the Humanities, a $30,000 research grant that will support his work on a film and a website documenting South Asian Muslims who immigrated to the United States during the 1890s-1940s, a period in which Asians were excluded from the country by law. Bald has also received a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship award for work on the same project.


Dissolve Inequality: A Visual Arts Summit

A book launch & panel discussion: How can visual art transform our understanding of protest, value, and change?

Celebrating MIT Values

Students, faculty, and staff gathered on Nov 17 for "Uniting through Voice and Song," a program of music from many traditions, interwoven with reflections from faculty and students on the enduring MIT values.


Gallery | Photographs of MIT's Music Program

"Many scientists and engineers have a deep affinity for music. I suspect it’s because both science and engineering are rooted in trying to comprehend deep and hidden structures. The appeal of uncovering those hidden structures is part of what draws many who love science and engineering to music as well.”


Harmonix co-founder Eran Egozy returns to MIT as Professor of the Practice of Music Technology

"Music exercises the artistic part of your brain, which encourages creativity, and that creativity can be applied to engineering and science," says Egozy, founder of Harmonix, one of the pre-eminent game development studios. "But students should take classes in the humanities and arts simply because they are rich and wonderful subjects. And ultimately, the truly great things happen in the world when people pursue the work they love."


Christine Walley and Chris Boebel on the Exit Zero Project

The Exit Zero Project, founded by Christine Walley and Chris Boebel, is a transmedia effort to tell the story of the traumatic effect of deindustrialization on Southeast Chicago. The three components of the project — book, documentary film, and in-progress interactive website — use family stories from the once-thriving steel mill communities of Southeast Chicago to consider the enduring impact of the loss of heavy industry and its role in widening class inequalities in the United States.


Thomas Levenson wins 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship

Thomas Levenson, MIT SHASS Professor of Science Writing and Director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing, has been awarded a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, a mid-career award that recognizes scholars and artists for their exceptional work.


3Q: A World-Premiere Concert Where the Audience Helps Play

MIT’s Eran Egozy discusses “12,” a chamber music debut with smartphone-driven percussion.


The Well-Versed Institute: Poetry at MIT

“I would be a tolerable Mathematician,” wrote the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1796. More than two centuries later, MIT students are proving that mathematicians — not to mention engineers, programmers, physicists, economists, architects, and biologists — make more than tolerable poets as well.


MIT named among three top universities in the world for humanities, arts

The Times Higher Education 2015 World University Rankings has named MIT one of the top three universities worldwide for arts and humanities education. The three top ranked universities — Stanford University, Harvard University, and MIT — are closely aligned in the evaluation metrics.


Report: Interactive documentaries represent a new form of innovation in digital journalism

Interactive and participatory documentaries provide immersive, visual, and mobile-friendly storytelling techniques; provoke creative collaborations across institutions, "desks" and with publics; and stimulate the use of often overlooked assets such as archives. By so doing, they offer an array of solutions for journalistic institutions that wish to reach a new generation of users and make use of today’s technological developments.


Designing virtual identities for empowerment and social change

Associate Professor D. Fox Harrell awarded $1.35M in grant funding to advance research on at the intersection of social science and digital technology.


From screen to stage

MIT’s Jay Scheib and Keeril Makan turn the famous film “Persona” into a new opera.


Musical Institute of Technology: A book about music and the MIT mission

Published by the MIT-SHASS Office of the Dean, Musical Institute of Technology is a photo-rich portrait of MIT's Music program that explores the significance of music for the MIT mission: the intersection of music with technology, science, and linguistics; why music training correlates with success in other fields; the affinity between music and the STEM fields; how music teaches collaboration, imaginative risk-taking; and music as a lens on global culture.


Marcus Thompson appointed Institute Professor

“Over his long career, Marcus has worked to give students access to a world-class music program that has changed MIT,” said Steven Hall, chair of the MIT faculty. “Many colleagues told us about his commitment to and generosity with students... Marcus is one of the great men and women of our faculty who inspire us every day.”

MIT List Visual Art Center


Artbot engineers the discovery of Art

Is it possible to engineer the discovery of art? In 2013, two SHASS graduate students set out to answer that question, and today, thanks to their work as research assistants in CMS/W, there’s an app for that!


MIT Music recording Infinite Winds released on major jazz label

For the first time ever, a collection of recordings by two outstanding MIT student groups — the MIT Wind Ensemble (MITWE) and the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble (FJE) — has been released by major jazz label. The CD, Infinite Winds, features works by noted composers Guillermo Klein, Chick Corea, and Don Byron, as well as performances by renowned soloists Bill McHenry (tenor saxophone) and Evan Ziporyn (clarinet).

The MIT Campaign for a Better World

Announcing the new comprehensive campaign, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said, "Humanity faces urgent challenges — challenges whose solutions depend on marrying advanced technical and scientific capabilities with a deep understanding of the world's political, cultural, and economic complexities."

Discover the role of MIT's Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences fields in solving the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of global issues, and in problem-solving in collaboration with our STEM colleagues. 


The Open Documentary Lab puts MIT in the vanguard of new media for storytelling

Internet, cellphone cameras, big data, interactive games, and other technologies have created an explosion of new methods of storytelling that is transforming the media landscape. The Open Documentary Lab explores the challenges and opportunities these changes present for documentarians today.


"Annotation Studio" translates an ancient literary practice into the digital age

Annotation Studio, a digital humanities project developed by HyperStudio, promises to improve upon traditional techniques for entering marginalia and side notes in books — enabling readers not only to annotate texts across media, but also to share comments with others and to enhance them with links, images, video, and audio.


Junot Díaz wins MacArthur Fellowship

Junot Díaz, the MIT writing professor widely acclaimed for his vivid, inventive works of fiction, has won a 2012 MacArthur Fellowship, sometimes referred to as a “genius grant.” The MacArthur Foundation cited Díaz for his stories that use “raw, vernacular dialogue and spare, unsentimental prose to draw readers into the various and distinct worlds that immigrants must straddle.”


New York Times interviews Junot Díaz

Q & A with the Pulitzer prize-winning author and MIT Professor of Writing 

Seth Mnookin, co-director, MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing


Seth Mnookin wins 2012 Science in Society Award for his book The Panic Virus

Seth Mnookin, Assistant Professor of Science Writing, and co-director of the MIT SHASS Graduate Program in Science Writing (GPSW), has been awarded the 2012 Science in Society Journalism Award for his book The Panic Virus. Of the award, given annually by the National Association of Science Writers, Tom Levenson, MIT Professor of Science Writing, notes, "This is one of the very top awards in our field. It reflects the judgment of the leading science writing association in the world and it is an honor that only comes to superlative work."    


MIT establishes Center for Art, Science, and Technology

A new Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) is being established at MIT with support from a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 


Cuthbert receives $500K Digging into Data grant for innovative musicology tools

Associate Professor of Music Michael Cuthbert, together with an international team of researchers, has been awarded a $500K grant from the Digging into Data consortium (including $175K from the National Endowment for the Humanities). The grant supports his for work using computational techniques to study changes in Western musical style.


A recap of the MIT Festival of Art, Science, and Technology (MIT FAST)

A prominent feature of MIT150, MIT FAST celebrated the Institute's unique confluence of art, science, and technology. With strong participation from MIT SHASS Music and Theater Arts, FAST events appeared across the MIT campus and over the entire spring semester.


Report cites arts as essential to MIT's mission

The arts at MIT connect creative minds across disciplines and encourage a lifetime of exploration and self-discovery. Rooted in experimentation, risk-taking and imaginative problem-solving, the arts are essential to MIT’s mission.

George Frideric Handel


Handel and Haydn Society perform "Israel in Egypt" for MIT's 150th

An historic colloquium and concert on February 19, 2011 at MIT. Premiered in the U.S. by the Handel and Haydn Society in 1859 (and last performed by the Society in 1974), this monumental work depicts the biblical story of Exodus, recounting the ten plagues, and celebrating the parting and crossing of the Red Sea.

Fox Harrell


Harrell convenes thought-leaders to catalyze new research informed by science, humanities, and arts disciplines.

Bringing together the resources of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Associate Professor Fox Harrell has led a joint workshop focused on research informed by both the arts and sciences. 55 thought leaders gathered to explore the goal of using technology to better understand society—and using the humanities and arts to build creative computational systems.



David Deveau inaugurates new hall for Rockport Music

David Deveau is a pianist, Senior Lecturer in Music and Theater Arts, and since 1995, Artistic Director of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival (now Rockport Music). He has been a key force behind the acclaimed Shalin Liu Performance Center that opened in Rockport, Massachusetts in June 2010.



Haldeman receives science fiction community's highest honor

Joe Haldeman, Adjunct Professor in the School's Program in Comparative Media Studies / Writing, has received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master award for 2010 from the Science Fiction and Science Fantasy Writers of America. The Grand Master award is SFWA’s highest accolade and recognizes excellence for a lifetime of contributions to the genres of science fiction and fantasy. 

junot diaz


New York Magazine: Díaz's novel is a defining work of the decade

"If there is a signature novel of the aughts—one book that most artfully co-opted our newfangled webbiness, that allowed itself to feel simultaneously major and small, that anchored its post-postmodern gimmickry in solid fictional ground—it was Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007).... The really stunning thing about Oscar Wao, in true aughts fashion, is its style."


American premiere of Evan Ziporyn opera, A House in Bali 

A House in Bali is a new opera by Evan Ziporyn with libretto by Paul Schick based on a memoir by Colin McPhee. This stunning, multi-media spectacle brings together ensembles of east and west, and features some of the finest operatic and Balinese voices of our time. The opera premiered in June 2009 at Puri Saraswati in Ubud. The American premiere will be presented by Cal Performances in Berkeley, California, September 26-27, 2009.    

Elena Ruehr


Fanfare Reviews Elena Ruehr's New Album

"Back in summer of 2007 I recommended Elena Ruehr’s opera, "Troussant and the Spirits," released on Arsis (Fanfare 30:5). I ended the review with a plea to hear more of Ruehr’s music. My wish has been granted."