Photo by Sean Weaver/NMHU Media arts students Daniel Atencio, left, and Joe Weber construct a display for “Fashioning New Mexico,” one of the inaugural exhibits for the New Mexico History Museum.

Photo by Sean Weaver/NMHU
Media arts students Daniel Atencio, left, and Joe Weber construct a display for “Fashioning New Mexico,” one of the inaugural exhibits for the New Mexico History Museum.

The Media Arts Department at New Mexico Highlands University launched a new interactive cultural technology program this semester with students creating key multimedia elements for “Fashioning New Mexico,” one of the inaugural exhibits for the New Mexico History Museum.

The new 96,000-square foot museum will open May 24 in Santa Fe. It is being constructed behind the Palace of the Governors on Santa Fe’s Historic Plaza.

The new program is called the Program for Interactive Cultural Technology and is the only one of its kind in the state. It is designed to prepare students for careers as multimedia professionals in museums and other cultural institutions. PICT is a partnership between Highlands University and the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

Media Arts professors Megan Jacobs, Andrew Wollner and Robert Drummond are teaching the rigorous 16-week program to 15 students this semester within the framework of two media arts classes, Exhibition Design and Project Management.

“What this new interactive cultural technology immersion program does is place our media arts students in a real-world environment, with a real-world exhibit, and real-world deadlines,” Wollner said. “It’s very hands on and takes students from design concept to completion.”

The students’ first deadline came just three and a half weeks into the semester, when they presented their preliminary designs to Louise Stiver, senior curator of the New Mexico History Museum, and other museum professionals.

“Our students worked tirelessly to prepare for this first presentation,” Jacobs said. “It was incredible to see what they created in such a short time frame. This new program gives our students access to the gift of time with museum professionals. The professionals have been so generous, and are wonderful at achieving a balance between honesty and praise in their feedback to our students.”

After seeing the students’ work in the first design presentation, Stiver said: “I think the Highlands students do high-caliber work and their presentations were very professionally done. Our museum exhibit team was quite impressed. This new program for interactive cultural technology at Highlands is generating a lot of interest from museum professionals around the state who want to work with the university’s Media Arts Program.”

Jacobs said the “Fashioning New Mexico” exhibit educates museum patrons about New Mexico history in the 1800s and 1900s in a unique way through period clothing. The multi-media exhibit focuses on clothing from vignettes like military service, weddings, inaugurations, fiestas, baptisms and more.

“Our students in the tech group are really pushing the envelope with the 3D modeling work they’re doing for this exhibit,” said Drummond, who is the technical director for the students’ exhibit work.  “Under the direction of Highlands’ computer science professor Gil Gallegos, our students built a 3D laser scanner using common components available at any office store. We’re laser scanning archival clothing from the New Mexico history collection for use in the exhibit.”

One project Drummond’s students are creating for the exhibit features an interactive mirror that museum officials expect to be a hit. Museum patrons will choose a historical clothing style and then see their reflection wearing the period clothes.
Drummond credits Gallegos with developing the face recognition software application needed for the interactive mirror.

Media Arts junior Veronica Black is preparing a time lapse video for installation in the “Fashioning New Mexico” exhibit.

“For me the most interesting thing about this project has been learning about conservation of the clothing garments, and going behind the scenes in the museum to work with the conservationists,” Black said. “This project is preparing me to have a better understanding of how to relate to clients in the design world.”

Jacobs said the new interactive cultural technology program empowers students because they learn how to communicate their ideas in a collaborative environment as well as see their ideas come to fruition.

“Our Media Arts Department specializes in hybrid learning where you’re not just good at one thing,”  Wollner said. “When our students graduate, they are prepared to get up to speed with industry standards in graphic design, photography, videography and multimedia.

“The learning curve is steep in media arts, so it takes a gutsy student to take on the big tasks we put before them,” Wollner said.  I’ve noticed a hard work ethic in our students that is unparalleled compared to other institutions I’ve worked with. Most students work outside school. Some even work full time and support their families. Our students are extraordinary.”