The Caroline Werner Gannett Project 2007-08
The Caroline Werner Gannett Project (2006—present)
Who We Are

Often we are asked “What is the Gannett Project?”

Photo credit Mike Saffran

Caroline Werner Gannett—our namesake

Rochester-born social and civic leader, Caroline Werner Gannett (1894-1979) served on many boards and within organizations, including the War Council of New York during WW II (working in centers caring for children of war plant employees), and the Lights-on-for-the-Blind Drive of the Rochester Eye Bank. After her husband, Frank E. Gannett, purchased the ROCHESTER TIMES-UNION, she served as board member of the Gannett Company, as well as Vice-President and Director of the Gannett Foundation. A lifelong political activist, she was appointed to the New York Board of Regents and served from 1947-63.

The Caroline Werner Gannett Project, 2006

Often we are asked “What is the Gannett Project?” In March 2006, Dr. Mary Lynn Broe was appointed Caroline Werner Gannett Professor of Humanities at RIT and given the Institute-level charge of “exploring the intersections of the humanities with the social sciences, sciences and technology to determine how they might relate more closely to each other in the future.” She was asked to do this so that RIT might gain a deeper understanding of the contexts in which humanities, scientific and technological change takes place. Another goal was to promote better understanding of the increasingly interdisciplinary character of knowledge, and the creative modes of cooperation possible among traditional disciplines in the new millennium.

Previously, Broe had held the Louise Rosenfield Noun endowed chair at Grinnell College (1986-2001), developing the interdisciplinary Noun Program, and introducing gender and women’s studies to the Midwestern liberal arts college.

To begin such conversations both within RIT and nationally, Mary Lynn Broe initiated The Caroline Werner Gannett Project. From across the Institute and the wider community, she assembled an Advisory Board of lively colleagues and professionals. The Working Group met biweekly all year, collaborating to identify and invite to campus highly visible speakers, and to shape related courses, workshops, colloquia and other events.

Brief History
Our First Year, 2006-07

In 2006-07, the Gannett Project hosted a high-profile lecture series entitled “Consilience: The Cognitive Revolution”—how ideas from evolution, artificial intelligence and neuroscience are changing our conception of what it means to be human. More specifically, starting in the 1960’s, a growing number of cross-disciplinary thinkers explored a bold new paradigm which located the social sciences and psychology within the larger network of scientific knowledge. This alternative framework drew heavily on evolutionary thinking. The lectures in the first Gannett series ranged widely, including topics as diverse as family dynamics, the psychological differences between the sexes, the origins of the aesthetic sense, and the adaptive functions of jealousy and depression. (See In the words of first-year Gannett Board member and COS Astrophysicist, David Merritt, “As Dobzhansky once said, ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ And that applies equally to the human mind. The advances that have been made in evolutionary psychology are nothing short of revolutionary.”.

Beginning with Dr. Eugenie Scott, a longtime activist in the creationism/evolution controversy, through capstone speaker, Dr. Daniel Dennett, each of the seven speakers was known for his or her research on the cusp of several different disciplines. Their talks suggested exciting new modes of cooperation among the sciences, technologies and the humanities, engendering a broader understanding about the role of evolution in unifying the branches of knowledge.

In this first year, The Caroline Werner Gannett Project also sponsored several new courses (see including “Truth & Consequences: Studies in Disciplinary Evidence,” a look at how fifteen faculty and area professionals from various disciplines identify, gather, preserve and pass on “evidence.” In another innovative co-directed course, ”Cognitive Science: Interdisciplinary Negotiations,” students lunched with and interviewed the various speakers in the year-long Gannett series. They conducted discussions with and videotaped the Gannett speakers’ various responses to the presence of Darwinian science in our everyday lives.

Our Second Year, 2007-08

After a successful first year, reflected in growing attendance at the talks and in a new “buzz” about our prominent speakers, Professor Broe and the Advisory Board continued their work of imagining new horizons for The Gannett Project. Again, we taped most of our speakers, posting their captioned talks on the Gannett website. Thanks to Gannett negotiations, WXXI’s Bob Smith {“1370 Connection”) has interviewed our speakers for two years, linking their lively and informative exchanges to our website.

A larger Advisory Board was tailored into a small Working Group with a second tier of “Consultants,” including area professionals, RIT faculty and deans, students and alums. Eight members of the small group met biweekly to select the topic and speakers—Visionaries in Motion—“21st Century thinkers and scholars in the arts, sciences and technology who ask the unasked questions.” The Working Group modeled a very synergistic collective process in planning the second year. Drawn from the community and from different disciplines throughout the Institute, the Working Group began over a year in advance to identify, research, and discuss each speaker, looking for individuals and groups who would challenge us in areas of particular interest to RIT. When asked, “How do you choose speakers?” we respond that the process is a long and thorough one. It involves much back-and-forth discussion among ourselves and directly with the speaker under consideration. We seldom go through agencies. We look for artists, scholars and thinkers who defy disciplinary boundaries, blend theories, court wildness and produce path-breaking original work.

The year began with PEN-award winning author, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Janna Levin, who talked on “Minds, Machines and the Cosmos: Is the Universe Infinite?”. She spoke to a general audience, plus chaired a seminar for a small high-profile group of astrophysicists. The second year also included MacArthur award winning artistic director and choreographer, Elizabeth Streb, whose SLAM dancers (Streb Lab for Action Mechanics) blend mathematical principles, physics, aesthetics and kinesics in their stunning performances.

Our related activities have grown to include a faculty and staff colloquium on the career of race and rights professor Patricia J. Williams (Rohr Law Professor at Columbia University and author of The Nation’s “Diary of a Mad Law Professor”) New media critic Ze Frank offered a seminar on the “Nature of Audience on the Digital Terrain.” Our final speaker (May 5, 2008), novelist, playwright and syndicated cartoonist, Lynda Barry, offered a dynamic 3-hour workshop in conjunction with her talk, “Writing the Unthinkable,” drawn from her newly released book, What It Is.

2008-09, Our Reputation Grows

Our reputation for bringing world-class creative speakers is growing. With each new speaker, we have developed a significant following on the RIT campus and in the Rochester community. Speakers in our “Visionaries in Motion III: the Human Imprint” series for 2008-09 really did “stretch the fragile human membrane across disciplinary borders, court wildness, reframe problems and take risks to change worlds.”

The year opened with legendary futurist, inventor and Artificial Intelligence expert, Ray Kurzweil, who drew a crowd of over 1400 in the Gordon Field House for “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.” President Bill Destler introduced Ray Kurzweil and the 2008-09 year. Two days before the Kurzweil talk, U of Rochester and RIT faculty, together with a venture capitalist, participated in a “Kurzweilfest,” a colloquium on Ray’s decades of achievement in science, health, technologies.

New workshops, gallery talks, films and other events complemented each of the speakers’ main talks during the year. An innovative 3-quarter course (“Visionaries in Motion”) co-directed by Gary Skuse and Mary Lynn Broe, was based on the series and offered to students across the Institute. They met, lunched with and were videotaped interviewing the Gannett guests.

Africadian poet George Elliott Clarke teamed up with NYC Jazz pianist, D.D. Jackson, for a dual session on “Be-Bopera,” including musical presentations from “Trudeau,” a jazz chamber opera, by the RIT Singers. Environmental activist, Bill McKibben, whose Deep Economy was chosen as RIT’s freshman summer reading, spoke on “Uniting Global and Local” and held a special Q & A session on this book. Canadian photographer of landscapes transformed by industry, Edward Burtynsky, offered a powerful presentation on “The Landscape of Oil” early in 2009. Burtynsky’s talk was complemented by an exhibit and gallery talk by RIT/MFA photography student, Chris Toalson.

At the beginning of spring quarter, Mark Frauenfelder and Carla Sinclair spoke on “The Modern Maker Guide to Pocket Creation” highlighting their years as founder/editors of bOING bOING blog, Make and Craft magazines. Their hands-on workshop enticed many RIT students and faculty to collaborate in building several imaginative projects from The Makers’ Shed. Illustrator, designer and author Maira Kalman presented a lively session on “Just Looking” followed by an exhibition of her selected gouaches at The Memorial Art Gallery. In April Dr. Leroy Hood, molecular biotechnologist and founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, held the audience spellbound with his talk on “Systems Biology and Systems Medicine.” The following month Matthew Coolidge, Program Director for The Center for Land Use Intepretation, explored how his CLUI group brings multidisciplinary understanding to how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized and perceived.

2009-10- City newspaper Critics’ Pick for “Best Lecture Series in Rochester”

Co-founder and producer for award-winning Louverture films, Joslyn Barnes launched the year on September 21, 2009 with “Imagination and the Cinema of Resistance.” Her campus visit was accompanied by the screening of “Bamako” and the sensational “Trouble the Water.”

International graphic designer and artist, Stefan Sagmeister, talked about “Design and Happiness” in early October to an audience of over 800, filling both Ingle Auditorium and the 1829 Room. From his outpost in Bali he issued a design challenge to RIT students: “Touch Someone’s Heart with Design.” Over fourteen classes eagerly took up the challenge and, on the day of Sagmeister’s visit, campus was covered with artwork and designs, now available for viewing on this site. With the help of Warren Sackler and others, Students in Hospitality & Service Management, created and served a locavore dinner to raves of the guests at the Henry’s dinner.

November brought Rebecca Solnit with her powerful talk about “Other Loves: Public Life and Unsaid Emotions” and reading at Writers & Books. Activist, historian and author of twelve books including the timely A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that arise in Disaster, Solnit has worked on antinuclear, antiwar, environmental, indigenous land rights and human rights campaigns and movements over many years.

In December we featured Adam Frank, a native son from University of Rochester, astrophysicist, and author of The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate. His award-winning book was one of Seed magazine’s Best Picks of the Year. Dr. Frank initiated our series feature of bringing innovative artists, scholars and thinkers--the ‘best of Rochester” -- to the Gannett Project.

In the midst of winter, artist, architect and designer Michael Singer drew a huge crowd for his beautifully illustrated and moving retrospective of the Michael Singer Studio, “Regenerative Design in the Public Realm.” Nicholas Gurewitch and Chris Onstad, the independent webcomic creators of Eisner award-winning “Perry Bible Fellowship” and “Achewood, charmed the younger members of the audience with their lively dramatic talk, “Internet Famous: The Life and Times of Nick and Chris.”

Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist, David Cay Johnston, joined the series in March to talk about “A Path Back to Prosperity for America.” A radio and television personality, Johnston is also the author of best-selling books on tax and economic policy, most recently Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With The Bill, about hidden subsidies, rigged markets, and corporate socialism. His earlier book on the U.S. tax system, Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else, was a New York Times bestseller.

Hiroshi Ishii, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Media Arts and Sciences from MIT presented “The Art of Tangible Bits” at the end of March, 2010. To a very engaged audience, Dr. Ishii displayed several “Tangible Bits” projects from Media Arts that invent new design media for artistic expressions as well as scientific analysis. His MIT group’s goal is to “realize seamless interfaces between humans, digital information, and the physical environment by giving physical form to digital information, making bits directly manipulable and perceptible.”

Rounding out the year on April 29 was Christopher deCharms, neuroscientist and founder of the life-sciences company, Omneuron. He presented his studies with real time fMRI in the talk, “Imagine imaging your own brain with real-time fMRI while seeing your imagining.”

2010-11 – Sailing on!

2010-11 proved to be another vibrant year of “Visionaries in Motion,” opening with philosopher/mechanic Matt Crawford’s workshop and talk, “The Case for Working with Your Hands” on September 8, 2010. Capstone speaker, Dan Ariely, behavioral economist, followed with “Who Put the Monkey in the Driver’s Seat?” The Gannett Project brought to RIT such visionaries as architect Jeanne Gang; graphic novelist and cartoonist Alison Bechdel; Rochester composer David Liptak; experimentalist engineer Golan Levin, storyteller Chimananda Ngozi Adichie. The year ended in April with popular science writer, biologist and veterinarian, David Bainbridge.

2011-12 – The tradition continues

In 2011-12, we look forward to an opening talk on DNA with National Medal of Science laureate Esther M. Conwell. Shifting gears from emerging scientific research, we will learn about the impact of writing an autobiography from Ryan Knighton. Photographer and author Fred Ritchin will show us a world After Photography, and Gannett Speakers Drew Berry, Sebastian Seung, Charles Burns, David Bornstein, and Elizabeth Turk will dazzle us with their visionary insight, evocative creations, and keen multidisciplinary understanding. We look forward to new and imaginative talks and events, as our audiences grow and “word is out” about “Visionaries in Motion V.”

All previous years’ events—talks, interviews and other activities—are available on this site under Past Years.

As always, Gannett events are free and open to the public.
Visionaries in Motion