Boulder Community Media (BCM) partnered with the Reality Garage and Boulder High School (BHS) to integrate virtual reality digital programming into the traditional arts.
The acronym, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), is commonly associated non-artistic endeavors.
There is a new iteration that moves STEM into creative industries called STEAM with the “A” representing “arts”.
The digital age added a new dimension to traditional analog art media – paintings, written pages, sculpted forms, animated digital books, 3D movies, and stories told in video game environments.
What if the the otherwise non-artistic skill of virtual reality is integrated into the arts?
The Boulder Virtual Reality (BVR) project was recently completed and does just that, thanks to a small grant from the Best Buy Foundation.
The grant enabled implementation of Phase II of a three Phase project.
During the fall 2018 – 2019 semester at BHS, 19 students were taught about virtual reality by teacher Dave Blessing and Reality Garage owners Bob Ottinger and Brenda Lee.
Reality Garage is a Boulder-based virtual reality technology development company.
Students learned hands-on job skills in the classroom work and also in the field where they operated a couple types of cameras.
They then learned how to manipulate the photos and videos into completed “stories.”
One student emerged as a mentor who assisted other students and another is working as an intern at Reality Garage.
Phase I was funded by a grant from the Wyoming Arts Council.
The Wind River VR Pilot Project introduced virtual reality as a new medium to tell traditional Northern Arapaho stories in a more relevant way to tribal youth.
BCM collaborated with Makerspace 307 in Fort Washakie, Wyoming who recruited four tribal youth to participate.
VR trainer, Glenn Reese, worked with the students in basic camera operation.
Northern Arapaho artist Robert Martinez discussed with the students the importance of passing tribal traditions to future generations.
Robert worked with the youth as they drew pictures illustrating an Arapaho folk tale, “The Fox and the Wood Tick,” as told by tribal elder Merle Haas.
Alison Sage is a singer member of the Northern Arapaho Eagle Society. He explained how tribal stories and experiences are preserved through song and drumming and worked with the students with expressing themselves through music.
The crew then traveled to the nearby Arapaho Ranch to integrate flat art and original music with virtual reality.
A virtual reality camera was set up and students displayed their art work. An original music soundtrack was improvised on the grand piano in the ranch house.
Merle Haas read The Fox and the Wood Tick in the Arapaho language. The virtual reality footage of the students with their art work was set to the Arapaho language narration and the student-composed music.
Over time, classrooms will be moving away from “learning” a subject to “feeling” the content through immersion.
To this end, the BVR Phase III project is underway. A third small grant was received from the city of Boulder Arts Commission.
That project adds virtual reality to telling the story of a Fort Chambers, which was constructed on the outskirts of Boulder.
The sod fort no longer stands, but was the training facility for the 3rd Volunteer Cavalry who killed Arapaho and Cheyenne tribal members at the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.
Students will be creating a virtual Fort Chambers that the viewer and walk through, to the narration of Arapaho tribal members who recount the stories told of the massacre by their ancestors.
The BVR is an engagement tool that in Phase III will teach students the use of a software called Tilt Brush and a program called Unity which will allow a student to explore, experience or be involved as if they are actually present in that environment or place.