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Students Present Jemez Historic Site Project at International Museum Conference

October 28, 2019

Photo of resin floor and multimedia display at Jemez Historic Site visitors center.

Highlands media arts students designed a new resin floor and multimedia display at Jemez Historic Site visitors center. Courtesy HU Media Arts

Las Vegas, N.M. – Students at New Mexico Highlands University will present their state-of-the-art multimedia work for the Jemez Historic Site at the Museum Computer Network (MCN) international conference in San Diego, Nov. 5-8. The students redesigned the site’s visitor center to help people experience the site in new ways.

Being selected to present at the Museum Computer Network conference is competitive. The MCN selection committee is composed of museum professionals from around the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

“I believe the Jemez project was selected because it meshed perfectly with this year’s conference theme of ‘Inferface: Communities + Museums,’” said Miriam Langer, chair of the Media Arts and Technology Department at Highlands. “We worked closely with Jemez Historic Site staff, Jemez tribal members, and representatives of tribal governance.”

Fifteen media arts students in Highlands’ one-of-a-kind Program for Interactive Cultural Technology, or PICT, created the multimedia visitor center installation spring semester 2019.

“The goal of the exhibit redesign was to shift the focus to a Pueblo and Indigenous people perspective, rather than just the Spanish conquest,” Langer said.

The Jemez Historic Site, known as one of the most beautiful prehistoric and historic sites in the Southwest, includes the stone ruins of a 500-year-old village and the San José church dating to 1622, according to Ethan Ortega, former instructional coordinator and supervisory archaeologist at the Jemez site and current site manager of Los Luceros Historic Site.

Ortega will be on the panel at the Museum Computer Network conference along with Langer and some of the media arts and technology students who worked on the Jemez project, including seniors Ali Romero and Becca Sharp and graduate student Terrence García.

“I think what is most significant about this exhibit is it tells the story of the Jemez people that hadn’t been told,” Romero said. “It was an opportunity to truthfully present their own perspectives. We designed an environment that invites participation and creates excitement about the Jemez history, culture and people.”

Ortega said: “The media arts students took a dated and static exhibit from the 1970s and transformed it into a stunning dynamic experience. The students created a very unique and innovative exhibit that is unlike any other historic site in the Southwest. People are really raving about the exhibit, saying it’s a great experience.”

Ortega said the students used oral histories and texts written by the Jemez tribal members to create the new components for the visitor center.

“One of the most significant things when you enter the exhibit is you hear the spoken Towa language of the Jemez people. It sets the tone of the tribal voice being the dominant one in the space. The students also incorporated Jemez designs throughout the multimedia exhibit. The exhibit reclaims the space for the Jemez people, and creates an exhibition that can be digitally updated as needed,” Ortega said.

Ortega said the New Mexico Historic Sites Division is eager to work with Highlands on future projects.

“Highlands supplies great students and professors for cultural technology projects,” Ortega said.

The Highlands students installed floor-to-ceiling video projections of historic images and oral histories; created exhibit panels; chose a new color palette for the site; designed a new trail guide and an activity book; installed two interactive touch screen computer tablets highlighting artifacts and a Jemez event called “Light Among the Ruins”; installed an engraved wood floor featuring a map of the site drawn by the site staff, who are Jemez tribal members; and redesigned two bathrooms highlighting the Jemez night sky and the volcanic features in the nearby Valles Caldera Wilderness Preserve. The Las Vegas, New Mexico company Old Wood carved the floor.

The Jemez Historic Site is a short drive from Albuquerque and Bernalillo, located at Jemez Springs and State Highway 4.

Media arts professors Langer, Mariah Fox Hausman and Eli Gonzales co-taught the Program for Interactive Cultural Technology immersive class that created the exhibit.

“With PICT, the Highlands students are trained to become experts in cultural interpretation and presentation,” Langer said.

According to the Museum Computer Network, its mission is to grow the digital capacity of museum professionals by connecting them to ideas, information, opportunities, proven practice and each other.

The Highlands Media Arts and Technology Department has presented at the MCN conference five of the last six years.

“It’s rare that students are selected to present, and our students always do an excellent job,” Langer said.