Visual arts

EMPAC is back in person

After two and a half years of pandemic closures, EMPAC is reopening to the public this fall.

EMPAC, RPI’s arts research center dedicated to cutting-edge work that blurs disciplines and infuses art, science and technology, welcomes audiences back with an ambitious season of four premieres and two previews through pandemic residencies.

“Normally we don’t have this many large-scale firsts,” said Vic Brooks, Associate Art Director and Senior Curator of Time-Based Visual Arts. “We’ll have some big firsts in the season… but it’s quite unusual.”

Like many arts organizations, EMPAC ceased in-person programming and transitioned to virtual programming when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Because it is part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the organization had to adhere to the college’s pandemic protocols. But when RPI began to reopen its campus and allow scholars-in-residence to resume, it opened a loophole for EMPAC’s artists-in-residence due to the integration of scientific research and artistic creation by the ‘organization. So while EMPAC may have been closed to the public for two and a half years, the work has continued, albeit in a hybrid form.

“We were doing this wild version of remote residency projects where we were all here and the artist wasn’t,” Brooks said. “It went pretty well, actually, given the circumstances.”

Many programs this fall, like Anna Craycroft’s “Only Breath, Words,” are the products of those pandemic residencies. While Craycroft began her in-person residency in 2018, she had to change once the pandemic hit. She would build the instruments for her play — large wooden pipes that now sit on the HVAC vents under the theater seats — and Brooks would drive for an hour to gather the materials. The EMPAC team would test the instruments with Craycroft on Zoom.

EMPAC has also aired work — mostly artist talk — throughout the pandemic, and RPI has lifted restrictions enough to allow audiences only on campus in fall 2021. This current season is the first time that audiences are allowed to return to EMPAC, which kicked off with a sold-out preview of 7NMS’ dance-theater play “PROPHET: The Order of the Lyricist” on August 26.

“We were so overwhelmed with emotion,” Brooks said, recalling watching audiences return for “PROPHET.”

While live streaming is incorporated into some of the season’s talks, the organization is focusing on in-person events. EMPAC’s programs are designed with the building’s infrastructure and technology in mind and are best experienced in person, Brooks said.

“Some things just don’t translate well online,” she said. “Of course, with something like a movie, you could say, ‘You can totally stream it at home,’ and we could. But we also really, really, really want people to experience things together.

Upcoming events at EMPAC

“Only Breath, Words” door Anna Craycroft

“Deep Listening: The Pauline Oliveros Story” by Daniel Weintraub

“Oriana” by Beatrice Santiago Munoz

“ANTHEM” by Adam Weinert

“Serpentine” by Daina Ashbee

For the full season, visit