SVMoA Blog

Jen Schneider & MashUps! Little Lectures for an Odd World

Febrero 6, 2024
Jen Schneider hosting a MashUp in Boise, summer 2023

Public Programs Director Kristine Bretall sat down with Jen Schneider, the creator and curator of MashUp! Little Lectures for an Odd World and the Associate Dean of the Boise State College of Innovation + Design to discuss how MashUp came to be and how she is looking forward to the collaboration with the Sun Valley Museum of Art and the Wood River Valley community.  Read the interview below, and don’t miss MashUp! #1: Digital Arborglyphs & Sound and Mind at the Museum on Thu, Feb 15. Mark your calendars for the MashUp! #2: Death Masks & Sign Geeks Thu, Mar 21, and MashUp! #3: Bird-Proof Building & Habit Rehab, Thu, Apr 18.

Presenter Elizabeth Kidd talks about the value of boy band superfans
Photo: “Presenter Elizabeth Kidd talks about the value of boy band superfans.”

Tell me how you describe MashUp to someone who doesn’t know about them.

Our tagline is "Little Lectures for an Odd World," and I think that describes it pretty well. We bring together two people from the Boise State University campus or the community who are experts on their odd little corners of the universe, and the topics they talk about ostensibly have nothing to do with each other. We encourage them each to give a 20-minute lecture or demonstration in a lively, engaging way, and then we turn things over to the audience for Q&A. But the Q&A is unique because you can only ask a question that connects the two topics in some way. It leads to a lot of creativity, engagement, and depth that is truly joyful.

 Where did this idea come from?

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver has run a similar series they call Mixed Taste for years, and it has grown so much that they now host events in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It's a major cultural event. I believe they borrowed the idea from others before them, stretching back to the Bauhaus Movement and even early 20th-century artist salons. But I first experienced it when I lived in Denver and have been wanting to bring the idea to Idaho ever since I moved back in 2014.

How did you initiate the project at Boise State University’s College of Innovation and Design?

Luckily, the College of Innovation and Design serves as an incubator for new and experimental ideas at Boise State. We mostly focus on building curriculum and programs that don't exist on campus yet, but the opportunity to pilot MashUp surfaced when we were thinking about ways to connect people in the humanities with new technologies coming on the scene, like generative artificial intelligence. It's been a great way to "mash up" those different kinds of topics in creative ways.

Presenter Chris Kotansky talks about how to make the perfect non-alcoholic cocktail.
Photo: “Presenter Chris Kotansky talks about how to make the perfect non-alcoholic cocktail.”

Coming to Ketchum, what are you excited to have this project bring to the Wood River Valley?

This is such an incredible opportunity for us. We've been wanting to partner with an arts organization (all those creative vibes!), so the collaboration with the Sun Valley Museum of Art is ideal. And we have been looking for years to strengthen the connection between Boise State and the Wood River Valley. There are deep historical, cultural, and intellectual threads that connect the two valleys. What a terrific chance to bring those to life through this series of events.

What do you think the “special sauce” is that makes MashUp fun and unique?

I think it's the mix of passion that the presenters bring to their topics combined with the creativity that the audience brings to the Q&A. There were moments during the first season when I found myself having emotional reactions witnessing people talk about something they love, and audiences taking that passion and finding rich, human connections between topics. I love that the events are casual and lighthearted, too. It doesn't feel serious like going to a "lecture" sometimes can. It's just a reminder that our humanity can be so beautiful, and we're all in this together.

The artwork for promoting MashUp in Boise and the Wood River Valley is created with AI, can you talk about why you’ve chosen to do that?

Well, I should say that we used AI tools to come up with the initial image concepts—we didn't just use them without further manipulating them ourselves to fit the events. Our theme for Season 1 of MashUp was "Our Digital Future," so it was a natural fit. But in the College of Innovation and Design, we're very interested in understanding and engaging with the tools of technology in a deep way, and also approaching them critically, teaching our students to engage with them in a serious and critical way. AI has all sorts of implications for creativity, intellectual property, labor relations, environmental damage, and so on. But we believe you can't be a good critic of technology if you don't understand it. We try to be thoughtful with how we use it, transparent about using it, and always "keep humans in the loop" with whatever we produce.