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Home / News / Business News / Catching up with Boise State University’s World Museum — and its high-tech approach to art

Catching up with Boise State University’s World Museum — and its high-tech approach to art

photo of world museum

Boise State University’s World Museum will have nine 4K screens that can be used for a number of purposes. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

So far, the outside of the Boise State University Fine Arts Building has gotten most of the attention, but the inside is pretty cool, too.

photo of steve cutchin

Steve Cutchin. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Marrying technology and art, the World Museum’s 943-square-foot centerpiece consists of nine 4K screens that can display a variety of art and other content interactively, said Steve Cutchin, associate professor of computer science in the BSU College of Engineering. The screens can be used for one big installation, or several smaller ones. Each screen also has an audio system.

Previously, Cutchin managed the visualization laboratory for King Abdullah’s University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, with a capital investment of $25 million and a budget of $4.3 million a year.

“The number one question we got was, ‘Does this play Xbox?’” Cutchin said.

It didn’t, and neither will the World Museum, but it will serve as a home for a cross-campus interdisciplinary program for teams of students to engage with high-quality digital content in the arts and sciences, Cutchin said. The room can hold from 30 to 35 students and is expected to be open by the next academic year, he said.

Students can use the room in six ways: Explore, View, Perform, Teach, Experiment and Create, Cutchin said. For example, students can call up a painting or sculpture from a number of museums worldwide and get up close and personal with it, walking around to see it from different angles, he said.

While the World Museum uses terms such as immersion and refers to virtual reality, it’s not really set up to be a virtual reality space at this point, Cutchin said.

“It looks amazing inside a headset if you do it right,” he said, but added that headsets at this point limit the ability of students to collaborate on a project.

However, that may change in the future because the campus is due to have its internet service upgraded to 10 gigabits per second, Cutchin said. “We could do a duet over two different locations,” he said.

Students are also in the process of capturing virtual reality data, such as one team of five students that is creating content in the California redwood forest, Cutchin said.

Another group visited California State University, Los Angeles to digitize artifacts from its collection, such as scholarly texts on Mesoamerica and facsimiles of Aztec texts, which both Boise State and CSULA students will be able to use. Digitizing the texts not only helps preserve them but offers the ability to add annotations and other interpretive material such as images, commentary and animations, according to Boise State. Students also photographed a 3D version of the 1931 mural “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City,” as well as public art in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Idaho Virtual Reality Council contributed expertise to the project, said Annie Morley, president, who is looking forward to seeing the completed project. Even if virtual reality isn’t present at opening, it’s likely to be added later as equipment is upgraded, she said.

In addition to content created by students, World Museum will be able to use images from other museums that have made their collections available to the public, BSU said.

The Gaming, Interactive Media, and Mobile Technology (GIMM) group has also been involved, Cutchin said. Other schools not typically focused on art, such as the College of Business and Economics, are also expected to be involved, he added, noting that students earning an MBA can learn a lot about project management by setting up an installation.

Students and others will be able to plug their own devices into the screens. “It’s a ‘bring your own device’ space,” Cutchin said.

The campus information technology department will be in charge of security, and the devices and images will be carefully vetted, he said.

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