CUNY To Open A Center For Visualizing Big Data

A transformed campus will offer training for museum curators and more

The Graduate Center at CUNY is no stranger to public-friendly data visualizations, with professors releasing projects like Phototrails and Selfiecity which have made academic research on cultural analytics accessible to a wider audience. Now, thanks to a $15 million grant, those projects will have a new home in the center of Manhattan, as CUNY renovates an existing campus at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue and establishes a Center for Digital Scholarship and Data Visualization.

"The graduate center has this amazing location in the heart of the city, with these huge windows," says Matthew K. Gold, associate professor of English and digital humanities, who spearheaded the grant application. "We think that the kind of visualizations we’ll be creating present an opportunity to share with the public."

Designs for the new center are still in the works, but Gold says to expect new classrooms, collaborative workspaces, and a theater for presentations.

In addition, the center will focus on surfacing insights from datasets that museums and other cultural institutions have provided. Many of these institutions have begun to experiment with ways of releasing images and other troves of information.

"Cultural institutions have data sets that present interesting challenges for the big data paradigm," says Gold, noting that much of the big data projects to date have focused on economics or health care data. Through the new center, CUNY will collaborate with partners including the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, and the Brooklyn Historical Society to pull in new data feeds and provide employee training. "They have these amazing cultural riches, and they’re not doing much with it," he says.

CUNY’s Graduate Center applied for the grant as part of a broad consortium of local colleges, including the College of Staten Island, Borough of Manhattan Community College, and City College. The $15 million award represents a significant piece of the $55 million CUNY2020 capital funding program sponsored by the governor’s office.

Establishment of the center comes on the heels of announcements from other institutions seeking to expand their digital storytelling capabilities and course offerings. Columbia University now offers a joint degree in journalism and computer science, and the U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Program named its first five digital storytelling fellows earlier this month.

Gold says he hopes to launch new data visualization degree programs "very soon," with tracks for a range of student backgrounds. "It’s a multifaceted discipline that involves everything from data aesthetics to programming," he says. "We’re moving as fast as possible to get things up and running."

[Image: Instagram visualization via Phototrails]

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