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Buckman Center Will Allow Students to Design Engaging, Immersive Experiences in New Lab Space

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A couple stand on the plaza in front of UT's Tower, gazing upward at the blue sky.
Karl and Nelda Buckman on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Alan Lessig.

AUSTIN, Texas — Central Texas philanthropists Karl and Nelda Buckman have pledged a significant gift to build an immersive media lab to support students in The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Design and Creative Technologies. Called the Buckman Center, the new research lab will be housed in the Doty Fine Arts Building and will be dedicated to the study of immersive media and the future of design and creative technologies.

Michael Baker, chair of the Department of Arts and Entertainment Technologies, said the space will be used as a staging area to create semi-permanent installations that can remain up for a semester or longer as students experiment with projects such as an immersive audio installation, a full room-size virtual reality experience or an interactive escape room.

“With this new immersive experience lab and studio, our students can gain hands-on experience with new technologies to consider questions around the possibilities of augmented reality storytelling,” Baker said. “How do we design experiences using interactive content in a physical space and across devices? Our students can experiment and create prototypes to prepare them for emerging jobs we can’t even imagine yet.”

For an in-depth profile of Karl and Nelda Buckman, click here.

The Buckmans provided this gift in recognition of the critical role of creativity in innovation, design, problem-solving and the human experience. Their early grassroots efforts began with providing creative opportunities for communities in Texas—from funding arts programs for low-income school districts to supporting small-town theater. Compelled by diminishing support for the arts, this year Karl and Nelda Buckman founded Nelda Studios, a media company and philanthropic organization that lifts, nurtures and expands opportunities for creativity and the arts through original media productions, philanthropy and community outreach.

“We are excited to establish the Buckman Center, a first-of-its-kind space that will allow students to engage with world-class designers, artists and technologists,” said Nelda Buckman. Karl Buckman added, “We can’t wait to see the amazing design and innovation this space will incubate.”

This $2 million gift—the largest to the School of Design and Creative Technologies to date—is one of the first gifts from the Karl and Nelda Buckman Fund, a philanthropic foundation created in 2021 to support programs with educational institutions, cultural organizations and nonprofits that encourage collaboration among artists, technologists, designers and futurists.

The new Buckman Center is expected to open in fall 2023. The School of Design and Creative Technologies has engaged a consultant to advise on how to outfit the 2,300 square feet with new technology to support teaching of immersive design.

“With this gift, I can see a future where we are producing really top-level experiences that are born out of the laboratories of The University of Texas at Austin and the College of Fine Arts,” said Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “Because we’re situated in a place like Austin with a thriving creative industry, we are well positioned to be at the forefront of both the conceptualization and practice of designing and building immersive experiences. We’re grateful to the Buckmans for their generosity and willingness to support creative practice in our college.”

A nighttime event with a crowd of people shows lighting projected on the side of a building.
The kickoff event for Austin Design Week, sponsored by the Buckmans, featured experiences designed by students in the UT School of Design and Creative Technologies. The Buckman Center will offer space for students to design and experiment with immersive experience design. Photo by Brian Birzer.