Ed Skellings, Poet Laureate of Florida, was the visionary who laid the groundwork for FAU’s current graduate and undergraduate programs in Computer Arts. Skellings, dubbed “the electric poet,” envisioned a new art form that would emerge from the computer screen. In 1981, in an address at the Miami Museum of Science, Skellings developed some of his insights about the artistic frontier of the computer:

The computer program has become the new American poem. ....

Whether the human being uses a natural or an artificial language doesn't matter. Whether the poem is sung by a bard with a lyre or whether it is sung by a teenager on a color video screen, it is the input and the output and the audience that matters. What is important is shared interactive mind.

The poem has always had subroutines of rhyming structure, vowel and consonant pattern. It has its logical argument and subroutines of symbolic reference. The poem transforms its words the same way a symphony transforms a simple notation into an architecture of sound. The computer program exhibits the mind of the composer, his deftness and his imperfections, as does the recalcitrant language used by a poem, and like a computer program, a poem requires a precise inter-relationship of every syntactical element. The Irish poet, William Yeats says, "A poem should click shut at the end like a box." He could be talking of a program, for a computer program is not simply a man talking to a machine, it is man talking to man because the final creation is not only a mirror for the individual creative self, it is a portrait of the self for other readers or listeners or users.

This new American poetry, this creativity of the Age, will not be confined to man and pen. It will be what Carl Sagan calls, "The artifacts of the corpus collosum," crossing and joining and using the whole brain. With both left and right brain humming, our children will illuminate their future. That is what artists have always done. For vision is prophecy in the sense that Art allows us to see our destiny. It is the torch we pass. William Wordsworth said it long long ago, "The child is Father to the Man."

To see one's self as a "new artist" is difficult. Every testament is a risk. Ask Martin Luther. No man's thumb is far from his own hammer. But at some point in his lifetime each artist must nail that testament up or feel forever a complete slave to the past, a past that created and nurtured him and that he respects and loves. The artist knows that the only way to preserve the real values of the art that preceded him is to burst from the prison of its forms and reassert the art's true nature in new shapes and contents. The new wine bursts the old bottles. And not to say it loud and clearly is to forsake the felt responsibility of any art and become a repeater and not an extender, a grasper and not a reacher. Robert Browning said, and he said it for every and he said it for every man of intellect, "Man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"

If the days of the departments of computer science are established, certainly it is now time for our schools to found departments of computer arts.

In 1990, following several years of work with the Florida Legislature, Skellings was appointed to initiate the Center for Electronic Communication (CEC). The Center’s mission was broad and, under Skellings’ leadership, it was involved in an array of innovative projects. By the end of the decade, as part of the FAU’s Broward-based College of Liberal Arts, Skellings and his staff designed an MFA program in Computer Arts that was implemented in 1998. Fran McAfee, one of Skellings’ longtime staff members and collaborators, earned the first MFA shortly after the degree’s launch. In 2002, with both McAfee and Skellings holding faculty positions in the College of Liberal Arts, a new BFA in Computer Arts and Animation was initiated.  

Both the graduate and undergraduate programs decisively demonstrate Skellings’ influence in their emphasis on the artist’s mission “to reassert the art’s true nature in new shapes and contents.”   

Skellings retired from FAU in 2006, and the Center for Electronic Communication was closed in 2007. Skellings  divides his time between writing poetry and directing The Edmund Skellings Poetry Foundation, whose mission is to promote a wider audience for poetry. Some of his legacy undoubtedly will be in the world of traditional poety, but another important part is in "the new American poem" as it is created by the faculty and students in FAU's programs in computer arts.