A few years ago I was invited by Emily Wilkinson, the administrator of the Texas Tech University Public Art Program, to help her think about a smartphone application for the collection. She was familiar with my work with digital art and what I was doing to develop the Popwalk app, and we decided that we could make something that would show off this collection to the public and the students in a new way.
This was a large undertaking: the Texas Tech Public art collection is quite large, with over one hundred works that stretch across the institution’s five campuses. And it is growing. This collection has also been rated as one of the best university public art collections in the nation.
We decided to use the Popwalk platform to deepen the experience and understanding of the works of art. What better way to do this than to contact the artists themselves and have them talk about their own works. We would have the artists create short videos talking about their works, the inspiration for them, and other important information. We would then edit these and put them up as site-specific videos next to the physical artworks on campus. This is what the collection looks like on the Popwalk app:
Popwalk generates a map of the works. when you click on the individual works, you can see an information page about the video, and you can watch the video if you are close enough to the place indicated on the map. In essence, we were creating a format that allows the artists in the public art collection to (virtually) stand next to their works to tell the campus about what they had made. Like a digital docent program that included of all of the artists.
There were a few little hiccups, some of the artists in the collection had passed. Strangely enough, I was attending a church congregation that included the sister-in-law of one of the artists. Through her I was able to get resources to tell he story of that artist. A number of other videos were written and edited by art history students who were studying in the Texas Tech School of Art. It took us about a year of communicating to produce videos for about seventy percent of the artworks in the collection.
At Texas Tech, we have a robust art appreciation program; one of the biggest in the nation. One of the faculty that oversees this program heard about what we were doing and decided to make it a part of the curriculum for her classes. She gathered some student feedback for the assignment, here is what we heard:
“I enjoyed the experience the PopWalk app had to offer and I would recommend it to anybody trying to learn more about pieces of art around our campus. “
“The videos that went along with the art works were all informational in their own way. Some provided extensive amount of information about the work and its meaning, while others were able to provide information about the artist themselves. Ultimately, I felt that by doing this I was able to interact with the art and even relate to them in some ways. Overall, I enjoyed the experience. “
“Overall, I think that this app is very beneficial. It was very cool to be able to walk around campus and learn about the artworks that we, as students, see every day but may not know much about. I learned a lot of interesting facts about multiple pieces of artwork that I saw.”