Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts Fast Forwarding the Future

Image of student behind projection and cinematic lights.

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts will be an exciting new program that creatively fuses virtual production with performative experiences across film; theatre and live stage performance; gaming, interactive media, broadcast and internet media; and augmented and virtual reality.

About Us

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts is a $57 million investment by the University that will be focused on interdisciplinary learning, creativity and research in emerging media located within the Johnny Carson School for Theatre and Film at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. It is made possible by a recent $20 million investment by the Johnny Carson Foundation.

The Johnny Carson Center will be an internationally distinct program in film and emerging media that explores the boundaries of where cinematic narrative and storytelling intersects with science, the humanities, computer science, engineering, music, fine arts and other disciplines.

The Johnny Carson Center will create new opportunities for students to expand their knowledge of today’s emerging media art forms that are positioned at the intersection of film, design, computational technologies and commerce.

Graduates who complete coursework in the program will be prepared with media arts skills that can be used in various professions, including filmmaking, game design, television production, theater, advertising, social media, business, architecture, science, education and agriculture, among others.

Courses and curriculum are being developed, and students are expected to begin enrolling in fall 2019. The center will be at 1300 Q St. and is scheduled to be completed by fall 2019.

Megan Elliott

Megan Elliott, manager of leadership and community connections at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia and former director and CEO of digital media think-tank X Media Lab, has been named the founding director of the Carson Center.

Read more about Director Megan Elliott

Virtual Production

Virtual production is a rapidly changing new field of study that is still being defined. As a result, virtual production plays an increasingly crucial role in both traditional film and visual storytelling in film and in a variety of emerging media fields. It is altering the way films are created and enabling new kinds of storytelling across a variety of emerging media.

A good story is the starting point in virtual production development, just as it is in film and theatre. A good story creates the world from which all other aspects of the virtual production process flow.

The virtual production process begins at the ideation stage and continues through the writing, production and distribution phases. It has the potential to pervade all aspects of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film from live theatrical performance, to design, technical production, film and emerging media.

At the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, students will learn how to create virtual environments for electronic and mobile game environments and for visual effects and design for film and broadcast television. They will explore how virtual and augmented reality can overlay the live experience through the use of head mounted displays, augmented reality on mobile phones and future technologies. They will learn how to transfer data from a live performer and use it to control and manipulate imagery and media such as projections, animated characters and virtual actors.

These new technologies are changing the way stories are told and visualized across an array of media platforms and can be applied transdisciplinarily for uses in the medical, science, architectural, journalism and educational fields, to name just a few.

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Vision & Mission

At the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts, students will learn how to tell a story in any media existing now or in the future using virtual production for film, video, live performance, the internet and other mediated environments. They will know how to recognize the potential that emerging media offer across an array of professional fields and be able to discern new technologies as they develop. Finally, they will become familiar with interdisciplinary skills in a variety of virtual production, art and design, and computational processes, as well as entrepreneurship and business.

Some of the most exciting developments in film and emerging media today reside at their boundaries, where cinematic narrative and storytelling intersects with science, the humanities, computer science, engineering, music, fine arts and other disciplines. Exploring these intersections is the mission of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

Read More About Our Vision in the Full Proposal

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Highlights of building the new Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts:

Faculty & Staff

A new director, seven permanent faculty members at the vanguard of film and emerging media, and additional staff members will be hired to develop and support the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts. Read more about how we propose to invest in the creative media professionals of the future.


In addition, a Board of Advisers will be formed, and additional faculty support will come from Carson Professors, who are professionals from the film and emerging media industry; Carson Fellows, who are UNL faculty from across various disciplines; and Guest Professionals and Artists.


A Johnny Carson Emerging Arts Conference will be held every two to three years; an annual Emerging Media Arts Symposium will explore new opportunities for creativity and research in film and emerging media; and an internship coordinator will be hired to help develop paid and unpaid internships opportunities for students with private-sector companies and public organizations.


A new curriculum will be built for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Emerging Media, in consultation with the new director, that will emphasize a new foundational curriculum, transdisciplinary specialization, virtual production certificates and the culminating Innovation Studio, a capstone class where students work on final projects that will prepare them for the professional world.


The new facility will have a capacity to hold more than 200 students. A five-year marketing campaign, supported by the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, will help advertise the program to prospective students.

A State-of-the-Art Facility

The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts will be located at the site of the Nebraska Bookstore, located at 13th and Q sts., on the UNL city campus. The Center is expected to open in the Fall of 2019.

The building that was formerly the Nebraska Bookstore.
The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts will be located at the busy intersection of 13th and Q sts. on campus, serving as the east anchor for the Arts Quadrangle of UNL.

The facility will include teaching and production sound stages, a performance capture lab, classrooms, design and editing labs, computer labs, a seminar and screening room and other specialized spaces. Every effort will be made to use these spaces as both production and teaching facilities.

In addition, the Studio Theatre in the Temple Building will be redesigned to double as a performance capture stage and a performance venue that can accommodate data controlled imagery and sound, projections and augmented reality performances.

About Johnny Carson

Born in Corning, Iowa, Johnny Carson grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. He served in World War II in the Navy as an ensign before enrolling at the University of Nebraska in 1947. He received a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949. He studied radio in the basement of the Temple Building.

One of television’s best known personalities, Carson is often called “the king of late night.” In 1962, Carson replaced Jack Paar as host of “The Tonight Show” for an Emmy Award-winning run that lasted three decades. His final appearance in May 1992 attracted an estimated 50 million viewers. He received six Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993, where the Cornhusker Marching Band paid tribute to him and his Nebraska roots.

Carson died in 2005.

The University of Nebraska has received more than $33 million in total philanthropic support from Johnny Carson and the Johnny Carson Foundation, including:

  • A $5.3 million gift in 2004 to renovate and expand the Temple Building and to create an endowment to keep performance spaces current with the latest in sound and lighting technologies.

  • An additional $5 million gift in 2005 to create an endowment to support programs in theatre, film and broadcasting.

  • More than $2.5 million donated by the Johnny Carson Foundation beginning in 2011 to create the Johnny Carson Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

  • A $20 million gift in 2015 from the Johnny Carson Foundation to create the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

Photo of the Nebraska Capitol and Downtown Buildings
As the state’s intellectual center and capital city, Lincoln is an up-and-coming home for the creative class.

About Lincoln

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is located in Lincoln, Nebraska. This up-and-coming and safe city of 300,000 people is the state capitol and has many of the cultural and entertainment benefits of a much larger city. The cost of living is low, and our public schools are among the nation’s best. Lincoln was ranked by Forbes as the 6th best place for business and careers.

Learn more about the city of Lincoln

How to Reach Us

Media Inquiries and other questions about the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

Kathe Andersen, Publications Coordinator,