More NCET History
Home          Introduction          Cast List          Site Map & Miscellany      

The history of NCET dates back to 1967, before it became, in 1969, The National Center for Experiments in Television.  Previously it was the KQED Experimental Project, and operated out of the KQED-TV studios.  NCET was dissolved in 1975. At present count the experimental project, and NCET proper, had six homes, all except the last in San Francisco.

As the KQED project it used:
- The KQED-TV television studio at 525 4th Street
- Stage A in San Francisco, near 22nd St. and Potrero (where ¡Heimskringla! was made)

As NCET, it was housed in:
- An as yet unidentified address in an alley near 3rd and Brannen Streets (circa 1970)
- The former ch-32 studios (purchased by KQED) at 1011 Bryant Street at 8th Street (circa 1971)
- A loft building at 288 7th Street at Folsom (1972 - 1974)
- An office suite at 2180 Milvia Street in Berkeley (1974 - 1976)

  This presentation of the history of NCET is excerpted from Private Money and Personal Influence: Howard Klein and the Rockefeller Foundation's Funding of the Media Arts by Marita Sturken - Afterimage, January 1987. For the full text visit the Video History Project  

...from 1967 through 1977, the [Rockefeller F]oundation awarded more than $3.4 million for experimental works in public television. The three major projects initiated and funded by the foundation were the National Center for Experiments in Television (NCET) at KQED (San Francisco), the New Television Workshop at WGBH (Boston), and the Television Laboratory at WNET/Thirteen (New York City).

Of these three, NCET was the most experimental in concept and the most process oriented. The genesis for NCET was a $150,000 grant that [Howard] Klein's immediate predecessor, assistant director Boyd Compton, initiated in 1967 to KQED for a television production of Paul Foster's play "¡Heimskringla!", directed by Tom O'Horgan with Ellen Stewart's La Mama Experimental Theater. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) soon provided funds also. In 1967, Brice Howard, who had been executive producer of cultural programs at WNET, came out to run the program (which was not officially NCET until 1969). Brice Howard has a very distinct philosophy, which was the guiding force at NCET through its years. He is a metaphysical thinker who maintained a strong rapport with younger artists in the radical environment of San Francisco in the late 1960s and was not interested in producing products for public television. Instead, he invited artists from different disciplines-poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, among them poets Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, and sculptor Willard Rosenquist - to experiment with imaging devices at the center. Brice Howard said, "I wanted people who didn't care much about television." When he initially took on the project, he told KQED that "if you can accept the idea that I might not give you one minute of recorded material, then I'll do it."

This attitude, however heady it may appear from the perspective of the 1980s, dovetailed easily with the spirit in which the foundation, first through Compton and Lloyd and then Klein, conceived of the possibility of television research and development.

The Rockefeller Foundation gave NCET $300,000 in 1971 to further this artists-in-residence program. Brice Howard invited Paul Kaufman, from the University of California at Berkeley, to be resident scholar and then executive director of the program. NCET also sponsored interns from public television stations and many artists-in-residence from foreign countries.

Artists like Don Hallock, William Gwin, William Roarty, and Robert Zagone created works at NCET. Others, like Stephen Beck who developed his video synthesizer there, matured as artists there. Brice Howard created a "laid-back" atmosphere where these artists could experiment with image-processing machines and audio synthesizers. Most of the works that came out of the NCET were processed, abstract explorations, often concerned with issues of surface and formal imagemaking. In fact, to many other videomakers in the San Francisco area, there was a specific NCET style, which was seen by some as elitist and heavily concerned with image and sound over content. Certainly central to the philosophy of the place was the concern that artists, in being given direct access to the tools for creating television, would create a new, humanistic kind of television. Also key to this philosophy was the importance of allowing artists time and space in which to experiment without thinking of products, in an unpressured atmosphere. According. to Howard, "we tried very seriously not to make it too heavy and profound, so we invited people essentially to come play."

In 1971, the Rockefeller Foundation gave NCET $300,000 to develop a program working with students. Paul Kaufman noted:

"The time had come to try to see if you could do something about changing the moribund characteristics of teaching about television in the Universities.... We began a project that lasted for three years which initially had people from the Center going out and visiting a lot of campuses, bringing tapes along, going to art departments.... Well, out of this group of initial visits, about 5 or 6 places kind of surfaced as possible workshop sites and eventually these became more or less mini-centers in themselves."

Eventually satellite programs were set up at three universities: Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and the Rhode Island School of Design, where Howard and others from NCET conducted workshops with students and encouraged similar kinds of facilities to develop. Howard left NCET in late 1974, and soon afterwards, under the guidance of the CPB, NCET moved out of the KQED offices to Berkeley. The organization began to fall apart in 1975. [Howard] Klein recounts:

“I always regretted them moving the center, because it pulled it out of broadcasting. I always wanted it in broadcasting, just like I wanted playwrights in theaters.... When I first went there, here was the station and here was a little room, and Stephen Beck had incense burning and an Indian cloth hanging over a light bulb, and that to me was interesting. What wasn't interesting was to see them set up their own office in Berkeley.... In fact what happened was that KQED, in closing out the accounts, demanded the return of an encoder, which was the basis of Stephen Beck's inventions, and he had to return it to KQED. We ended up giving him a grant for $4,000 in 1976 to replace it. That just tells you how bad things were between them. It was a destructive situation. They weren't able to continue a relationship with the station as it went through changes and problems.”

Ultimately, the question raised by the demise of NCET is whether any institution would support that kind of process oriented milieu for very long. Brice Howard says that, of all of the experimental television centers, "we were the least likely to survive.... TV is a great sprawling institution outside of the commercial world. It is an abstraction in the non-profit world unless it is veiled as a product." The question of who NCET actually served and its relationship to the video community in San Francisco is also one to be considered, and one that would be raised again in the aftermath of its closing.


This very brief history of the National Center is excerpted from the article, Video Art: What's TV Got To Do With It? by Kathy Rae Huffman (Internet posting)

On the West Coast, San Francisco's public television station KQED-TV became the focus of research and experimentation. The Bay Area was a haven for the sixties counter culture, and KQED achieved a reputation for liberal programming policy. In 1967, the station became the home of the Center for Experiments in Television, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation as a kind of research nd development arm for the television industry where artists would find new ways to use the medium. The center operated under the direction of Brice Howard, the former executive producer of cultural programming at WNET, New York's public television station. Associated with radical San Francisco aesthetics, Howard was not interested in developing "product" for television and proclaimed that neither the Rockefeller Foundation nor KQED should ex- expect to see any tangible results from the program. Renamed the National Center for Experiments in Television (NCET) in 1969, when its funding was renewed by the newly formed National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and CPB, this unusual artists-in-residence program brought visual artists, design- ers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and dancers together with technicians and engineers. The center encouraged broad innovation in technology and design, sponsoring artists such as Stephen Beck, who developed his Direct Video Synthesizer while a regular participant of KQED's experimental studio facility. Rather than create straightforward television "programs," the artists at NCET emphasized abstract, synthesized, mystical-looking images that demonstrated state-of-the-art analog technology and bewildered many viewers. When broadcast on KQED, these creations were derided as "wallpaper" by critics. The term soon became generic, used not only in reference to all works relying on colorized feedback techniques, but to describe any work in which technology dominated content. KQED broadcast one of the innovative works produced at NCET, William Gwin's Point Lobos State Reserve, in 1973. Although the images were of actual scenes recorded on location, Gwin's broadcast looked startlingly different from other programs on TV. In an attempt to mediate this imagery, a voice-over soothingly offered advice to "see your television set as a painting that moves. . . ." A victim of the changing attitudes and ambitions and of its members, NCET closed in 1974 [corr. 1975]. Although it disbanded, its participants continued to work in alternative media, and established a center for art education and an artists workshop at the University of California, Berkeley, headed up by NCET's William [Willard] Rosenquist.

Home    |    Introduction / Directory    |    Cast List     |    Email Us