Yo-Yo Ma Talks Innovation at the i-Lab

VES Open Studio
Emily C. Wong

Students taking classes in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) had the opportunity to put their work on display at the Fall Open Studios event at the Carpenter Center on Thursday evening.The collection of student work included multimedia projects, interactive sound installations, paintings, prints, drawings, and conceptual figure painting, among others.

The Harvard Innovation Lab hosted a kick-off event yesterday to celebrate the inaugural Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge featuring speakers including Yo-Yo Ma ’76 and Harvard Innovation Lab Director Gordon S. Jones.

The Challenge—through which students will have an opportunity to propose solutions for supporting and expanding the role of arts in society—emphasizes interdisciplinary innovation, a theme throughout yesterday’s event as well.

“A challenge is two different fields meeting,” said Ma in his remarks.

“We will find new thinking and new discoveries that will help solve some of the many problems facing our world today.”

Throughout the event, speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration across the University to the Challenge’s mission. “I take this as an example of what a university can do and can create—an extremely productive conversation between the reformative know-how of the Business School and the passionate creative expression world of art and art making,” said Diana Sorensen, dean of arts and humanities.

Ma and his music group, the Silk Road Ensemble, treated attendees to multiple pieces chosen to reflect this interdisciplinary vision.

Before playing his closing pieces, Ma addressed the nature of innovation.

“I would like to take a term from

ecology called [ecotone], when two different systems meet. What happens at that edge?” asked Ma.

“You have much more diversity of new life. And that’s what we’re talking about within the arts and humanities, arts and sciences.”

Jones’ speech helped articulate the Challenge’s direction. “We are looking for innovative proposals and solutions for arts and artists to survive and thrive,” he said.

“The I-Lab is a forum where resources can come together so that students can take their ideas as far as they can go. We want to set the opportunity up and let passion and educational motivations flourish.”

The Challenge will combine the expertise of Harvard Business School, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Arts and Humanities Division, and the Silk Road Project—the nonprofit arts organization led by Ma. In its first stage, which will run from December to February of the coming year, students will submit their initial proposals.

Finalists will be assigned mentors in May 2013 and given $5,000 to further develop their proposals before final submission. Administrators involved in the Challenge, which is open to students across the University, said they expected it to draw applications from hundreds of talented students.

Leaders from the Challenge especially encouraged undergraduates to partake in the program.

“The hope is that it would be a lot of undergraduates thinking about these things because in some ways they have a unique perspective that they can bring,” said Mukti V. Khaire, one of the events’ speakers and an associate professor at the Business School.

—Staff writer Fatima Mirza can be reached at


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