May 20, 2018
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UMaine new media students break in new creativity, innovation space by showing off their work

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — A new world for new media was on display at the new Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center, or IMRC (pronounced Immerse), at the University of Maine on Thursday night.

UMaine new media students broke in the campus’ $9.3 million renovation of the former Stewart Dining Commons, showing off projects some have been working on all year during the school’s eighth annual New Media Night.

When the building officially opens this fall, it will bring the university’s art and new media departments under one roof. Previously, the departments had been scattered across campus wherever there was room.

Stewart Commons was shuttered when Hilltop Commons opened in 2007, clearing the way for a new space that would bring the broad, open-ended fields of new media and art into one collaborative space.

“This is really intended to be a hub for creativity and innovation,” said Owen Smith, director of the intermedia master’s in fine arts program. The building features computer classrooms, state-of-the art editing facilities, laser cutters and engravers, and a circular room with floor-to-ceiling white boards for walls. It also will include advanced large-scale printing, studio space and photography equipment once the art department’s Wyeth Family Studio Art Center section of the building is complete.

Funding for these renovations came from a $3.7 million Maine Technology Asset Fund grant, a $2 million energy savings grant and an $800,000 donation from Bank of America, according to the university. The balance came from campus funds and general obligation bonds.

The projects on display Thursday were as broad as the field of new media itself, which almost defies strict definition. Smith said he once defined new media as a hybrid of design, technology and journalism, but new media is fluid and so is its description. Smith said he now views new media as an expression of “new ways of thinking” and innovative problem solving using digital tools and technology.

Christopher Bryant, a 21-year-old senior in the new media program, let visitors try out a device he designed which gives users an over-the-shoulder third-person view of themselves. The device includes a backpack with PVC piping that holds a camera behind and above the user, who wears glasses that display what the camera sees. The result is a disorienting view of the world from the perspective of a very tall person standing over your shoulder.

Bryant said he’s not positive what the potential applications might be, but he said that he has a theory that one potential use might be to help people overcome phobias. Bryant, who is a psychology major as well, thinks it could help people do the things they fear by allowing the person to face their phobia while watching from another person’s perspective.

“Oh man, I wish I could live like this,” said one user who put on the device.

Derek O’Brien, who has limited use of his arms and legs because of a swimming accident in 2005, created an interactive book for iPads that tells stories of disabled students or faculty at UMaine. In one video, a UMaine student with Tourette syndrome wears a camera during his daily routine and talks about how Tourette’s affects his social and academic life. The digital book also provides students with resources on disabilities.

The project was O’Brien’s capstone, and he has passed it on to UMaine Disability Support Services, which might use it to show prospective and new disabled students what is available to them and help them to meet other students with disabilities, O’Brien said.

O’Brien recently did a photo-a-day project for the Bangor Daily News.

Other students showed off ideas for new displays at the Maine Discovery Museum, ranging from a redesign of the Body Journey Exhibit to an exhibit that puts the scale of animals into perspective for kids.

Others premiered their own cellphone apps. One student’s capstone project was a hunting and foraging app that allowed users to look up animals and plants, mark locations of animals or tree stands via GPS, or find the nearest moose or deer processing station, among other uses.

Smith said this new facility could attract a whole new segment of students to the university, adding to the diversified offerings of a campus that’s traditionally thought of as an engineering hub.

“There’s really no sector of the economy that doesn’t need someone to do creative media work,” Smith said. “Now the fun really starts.”

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