Johnny Carson Center

Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts

As a part of our new initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “What is going on with the old Nebraska Bookstore? It looks like there is major construction." 

Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will soon have the opportunity to explore a different education with the new Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

The old university bookstore on 13th street between Q and R streets is being refurbished to house the new center. According to Megan Elliott, founding director of the Carson Center, the repurposed building will create learning spaces for students in the emerging media arts major to occupy.

Elliott said media is an industry-building industry, with an emphasis in technology and media arts creativity. This means students with the degree can work in a variety of jobs, because as Elliott said, the inside of combine harvesters are “just as high tech” as a plane’s cockpit.

“The pillars of the degree are in design, storytelling, computer code and entrepreneurship,” she said. “We think that those are the capacities that you’ll need to develop to thrive in the 21st century.”

UNL’s Carson Center is unique because of its emphasis on entrepreneurship, Elliott said.

Elliott said the building will be completely flexible, allowing students to build their own learning places, studios and labs. Additionally, faculty will not have individual offices, but a joint area for them to work.


Megan Elliott poses for a portrait in the University Communications office on Aug. 29, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Elliott is the founding director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.

Project manager Swetha Gadwal echoed Elliott’s sentiments and said the “premise of the building is open collaboration and flexibility.”

This system is akin to how startups operate, Elliott said, and is something that is very non-traditional when compared to other UNL buildings.

Because of the flexibility of the emerging media arts program, Elliott said the building will be adaptable to embrace the future of changing technology.

Gadwal said the entire building is technology-driven, with an infrastructure designed to adapt to the future.

“With the constantly developing and emerging technology in the world, we are confident this new space will be a perfect platform for students to embrace, develop and fortify their creativity and nurture their ambitions.”

Project architect Mike Hamilton said he visited other colleges and corporate offices, like Stanford, the California College of the Arts and Pixar. His visits allowed him to observe how other corporations do similar work in the arts, in order to ensure the Carson Center is “a space that is truly on the cutting edge of media arts.” 

Additionally, the Carson Center will not be a learning place for just UNL students; Lincoln community members will also be encouraged to utilize the building. Elliott said the building is in an ideal location, because it is right on the edge of campus and the rest of the city, particularly the business sector.

The Director of Operations for the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts Megan McMasters said the program is now accepting applications for students for the 2019-20 school year.

She also said it is now accepting applications for faculty. 

Gadwal said the project started as a gift from the Carson Foundation in 2015, and planning and programming followed Elliott’s January 2017 entrance. Construction just began on the building, and the Carson Center’s opening is planned for fall 2019.

For now, Elliott said they are in the process of recruiting faculty and students to join the program.

She said she doubted other universities would have been able to work at UNL’s “breakneck speed.” She said it was particularly impressive due to the university’s talk of budget cuts over the past year.

“It also speaks volumes about how actually forward-thinking UNL is,” she said. “They told me to treat it like a startup and I have, and they’ve fully backed me … it’s been fantastic.”

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