Lynne Koscielniak dreams of one day illuminating the blank canvas of Niagara Falls with choreographed lights; in the meantime, she inspires students with her energy and her insight.
Koscielniak, an associate professor of theater and dance, is constantly looking to the future when it comes to research and the next big thing in light design technology. In her opinion, public lighting art is going to have a bright future.
"I'm interested in evolving my lighting artistry into public art and experimenting with projecting technology," Koscielniak said. "I'm interested in the projection and lighting on mist. I'm very interested in the emergence of public art and the theatrical arts and lighting, and I would love to light Niagara Falls."
It's not just about beautifying water for Koscielniak – she hopes to merge the cultures of America and Canada and encompass the similarities that emerge at Niagara Falls, on the border of both countries.
"There are young designers coming out of Montréal and I would like to establish a dialogue between American and Canadian artists and writers and poets and where we might take a traditional play and support it visually, or take a poem and supporting it with visuals, but in more of a public forum," Koscielniak said. "There wouldn't be a physical screen, just the landmark as a canvas. The idea of this moving nature and motion on top of motion would be an interesting artistic experiment."
Koscielniak has been teaching students at UB in the areas of lighting, set design, costumes, props, and sound for nearly a decade. By embarking on these grand projects, she hopes to enable students who get the chance to help her gain experience in the fields of design and theater. She believes that it's her job here to encourage students to become better than she will ever be able to become.
"She has taught me how to take an image and develop it into an idea, an entire concept that drives my design into a fully developed production," said Caitlin McLead, senior fine arts and theatre design major. "Because of her I now know how to develop my thoughts into narratives that will reach others."
Working with students in this way is what earned Koscielniak the UB Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. The award was instituted last spring, and was given to five recipients, including Koscielniak.
"It's really an honor to be recognized by the students as someone who is instrumental to their careers and our collective interests," Koscielniak said. "I feel, collectively speaking, [that] students and educators are moving forward to advance the art form, and I hope to always be able to give them opportunities here."
Koscielniak earned this award by allowing her students to explore the creative aspects of UB. This year, her students are taking on activities such as designing costumes for dance companies and creating lighting and theater production design sets. Some of her students' work has been showcased at major festivals, such as the Kennedy Center American College theater festival in Washington D.C.
"The way Lynne's process works is she gives me time to create, then [she] adds things to it to improve it," said Chelsea Bath, junior theater major. "I have learned to just not take the first idea I have but more of what else could I do to make this better. She challenges me to take my, at times, not so creative mind, and push the envelope a tad, and expand my view on where you can do research and what counts as research. And how you can take anything and turn it into a design or a concept."
Koscielniak's students have nothing but praise for the professor, who spends hours with them developing their original ideas into brilliant masterpieces. She tries to push all of her students to reach their potential by helping them think outside of the box. This is a trait of hers that her students really admire.
"She really cares because she isn't just teaching, she lives it…she always talks about how it's art and it means something," said Sarah Kost, a junior design major. "Without her, I probably would be in a corner always panicking and crying about everything. She's not there to listen to you cry, she just says, ‘no, so what are you going to do?'"
Even as the students graduate from UB, their connection with the award-winning professor doesn't end. Koscielniak tries her hardest to work with alumni to help her current students get real world experience.
Connections are also made through these projects when Koscielniak takes her advanced students to national and international conferences to present their research such as the Prague Quadrennial of Stage Design.
Traditionally, light designers are normally the last piece of the production puzzle and only have a few days to set up their equipment. Koscielniak is currently investigating new technologies to use in light design. The program, called ESP Vision, would be able to simulate lighting sets and would allow light designers to get a better grasp on the production set-up earlier.
Koscielniak takes her more advanced students with her to the conferences where she presents her ideas. Her students are able to stand next to her and co-present, which gives them different types of experience in the new technologies being discovered.
"I think it's really important that [students] do see what's going on nationally and internationally," Koscielniak said. "There are always unique problems relating to engineering, materiality and my current passion is about how to harness technology to further my role as a collaborator in the theater arts."