The 2009 Creativity 50: Red Burns

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Red Burns
Red Burns
Conventional wisdom has it that digital creativity is a young man's game—with equal emphasis on young and man. There's the "folks over 30 aren't natives and therefore can't internalize new ways of doing things" chestnut, then there's the fact that the interactive industry, dismayingly, seems to reflect the wider ad industry's paucity of female creative leaders. It all makes the case of Red Burns that much more inspiring a counterpoint. Burns took up the interactive banner in 1971—when media wasn't even new yet—and has since looked relentlessly forward, carving out new territory in education in emerging media as thechairof the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. This year the program celebrates its 30th anniversary as a breeding ground for pan-discipline media thinkers, a place for designers, engineers, artists, geeks, filmmakers and various misfits to explore "the recently possible."

Burns, a native of Canada, sprang from that country's legendary National Film Board. In 1971 she founded the Alternate Media Center, a new technology lab at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and helped mastermind some innovative telecommunications projects including an interactive TV application for seniors. ITP was born in 1979 from the early works of Burns and AMC and became the first graduate program in emerging media. For her efforts Burns has been called the Godmother of Silicon Alley and physical computing.

The program now produces 220 eclectic graduates a year, who go on to jobs of every description at companies from R/GA and IDEO to Time, Microsoft and Sony. This isn't a software intro course—the tech is only the jumping off point—and it's certainly no cake walk. Ideas don't sleep and frequently, neither do ITP students. The program is an in-depth laboratory of possibility in the realm of communications. "With strong education and training in concept, design and technology, ITP graduates... are prepped to come up with game-changing ideas that are rooted in an understanding of what it takes to make them work," says Chloe Gottlieb, VP, Executive Creative Director, Interaction Design at R/GA. "The program's professors are industry thought leaders who have their pulse on what's happening in the real world and teach students about the full creative process, which is invaluable for any agency looking for new talent."

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