NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- More than fifty pioneers in virtual reality, motion capture and other evolving arts technologies gathered in the City of New Rochelle, which has enabled the latest in motion capture and VR technologies through maker spaces, a black box theater and other initiatives, on August 4-6 to transform the city’s core into the next creative innovation center.
The event, organized by the New Rochelle BID in partnership with the newly-formed Interactive Digital Environment Alliance (IDEA), attracted top-notch VR professionals, including Emmy nominated and former Pixar director Saschka Unseld, and TED fellow Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, who curated Sotheby’s first Virtual Reality art exhibit this summer.
Both Unseld and Barcia-Colombo are exploring projects in New Rochelle with IDEA and the BID for this fall.
“There is not another city that is dedicating itself to this new technology and exploring what the possibilities are for it,” said Barcia-Colombo, whose Fulton Center In a NY Minute installation included 54 large scale slow-motion videos of people performing daily acts. “So it is really exciting to think about all these maker spaces coming here that are not that far from New York but have their own flavor and their own style here.”
The summit was a coming-out party of sorts for IDEA, which is working with the BID and the City to unite sites around New Rochelle’s downtown into a new Arts and Technology District. The three day event drew 54 artists and professionals in the art technologies (from New York City and as a far away as California) who stayed the weekend in Gaddy Hall at New Rochelle’s Monroe College, and participated in events courtesy of the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC). Both Monroe College and the CPC were sponsors of the event.
“The City of New Rochelle was truly honored to host such a groundbreaking event for the art and technology industries,” said New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. “Considering our vigorous efforts to create a budding community of pioneering artists and technologists right here in New Rochelle, it is a wonderful benefit for the city to be able to draw upon so many great, talented minds and leaders in these fields.”
“We’re thrilled with the way the summit turned out,” said BID Executive Director Ralph DiBart. “It was a great exploration of the possibilities that virtual reality, augmented reality and other new technologies can bring to further economic development in downtown New Rochelle, and it was encouraging to see professionals who are forging new paths in these fields discover what a wonderful place this is to live, work, play – and innovate.”
Activities began Friday, August 4th when participants were treated to a boat ride along New Rochelle’s treasured waterfront, and later, a Taste of Downtown New Rochelle reception at the Consign it on Main shop at 543 Main Street. On Saturday and Sunday participants attended workshop sessions at Monroe College and panel discussions at the nearby Ossie Davis Theater.
The series of workshops taught a diverse audience about VR tools and sustainability initiatives, and also provided a platform for experts to share stories from around the globe, on topics such as:
· “Where fashion meets math”;
· “Cyber security and the ‘hacker’ in film”;
· “Sensory studies of the Body and immersive technology”
· “Making algorithmic music on your cell phone”;
· “Systems of play and the architecture of games”.
Marco Antonio Castro, a TED Fellow and former Director of MediaLab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is working with IDEA and the BID to design a van (donated by U-Haul) as a way to expose people to virtual reality and its endless uses. At the summit, participants witnessed virtual bodies dancing and entered new worlds or outer space in the back of the U-Haul truck, where they could paint in midair with swaths of color, streaks of light or streams of stars. The truck will bring the VR experience and sustainability education to parks, schools and Veteran centers and other public venues.
“It will serve as a beacon where people visiting or walking around downtown can gather and learn about it,” Castro said.
In addition to the VR/Sustainability Truck, the IDEA downtown initiative includes plans for two fully equipped technology maker spaces, an incubator, a black box theater enhanced with virtual reality and motion capture, exhibition spaces and ultimately an Interactive Museum. In addition, a live-work loft which will house an array of visiting creators working on projects in the arts and technology will open this fall.
“IDEA New Rochelle is an alliance of locations that will become sites of action for those working in the immersive technology fields. These sites will become educational portals for those interested in learning how to become part of these emerging technologies,” explained Amelia Winger-Bearskin, Director of IDEA of New Rochelle. “We are creating places of research, production and education that center around virtual reality and motion capture which will allow us to explore how all of the human senses are considered in the research and prototyping of this new multi-media framework.”
Winger-Bearskin is the founder and former director of DBRS Innovation Labs and professor of New Media and Performance at Vanderbilt University. With her heading IDEA, the organization will partner with some of New York’s leading institutions, universities and non-profits to integrate the Arts and Technology District into the existing ecosystem of educators, entrepreneurs, and technologists already working in New Rochelle and neighboring communities.
Participants who spent the weekend discovering the opportunities in the city commented:
“The first thing I noticed was the public art,” Fletcher Bach of Brooklyn, technologist who works with wearable sensor system. “I was really impressed by it.”
“I loved that this downtown is so walkable and diverse and has so many great restaurants,” stated Eamon O’Connor, a Brooklyn artist and technology writer.
Cost is a key factor in drawing people out of Manhattan and Brooklyn and to New Rochelle.
“It’s super close, but they’re not Manhattan prices,” said Noah Landow, another participant.
But Upseld saw the benefits of the change of scenery to the city by Long Island Sound, without a long ride.
“It’s nice to be get outside the major city,” he said. “The change of scenery is really useful in finding creative space. The fact that you have this safe space, that is even closer than some other parts within New York City, is just a really beautiful thing.”
The initiative would help locals by making the technologies accessible not only to people already making their way in the field, but to area residents who are new to it all.
“It’s not just for people from New York, by for people in New Rochelle and the area who are interested in working in the same maker spaces,” said Barcia-Colombo. “There’s a lot of opportunity for performance and for dance and music and integrating all these things together. I don’t know of another place that’s trying to do an initiative like this.”
Alex Gonzalez, a virtual reality designer from Tarrytown who is creating a VR movie called “Beyond the Mountain,” was thrilled to find the event and to learn about New Rochelle’s plans.
“I can’t believe this exists so close to home,” he said. “I didn’t know that outside of New York City and L.A., there were people so interested in this.”