Open Studios event on May 1 to take place inside virtual Carson Center
April 30, 2020
Students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts will share their work from the spring semester StoryLab and Visual Expression Studio classes in a virtual Open Studios event on Mozilla Hubs inside a 3D virtual model of the Carson Center on Friday, May 1 from 5-7 p.m. CST.
The virtual event is free and open to the public. Access the Carson Center’s Mozilla Hubs space on May 1 at https://go.unl.edu/emaopenstudio. For the best experience, it is recommended that participants use Mozilla Firefox for their browser and headphones/headset.
The use of Mozilla Hubs has created new opportunities for students and faculty in the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts to create connection, community and art making during COVID-19.
Students are creating their own exhibition rooms where their time-based media work will be exhibited for critiques, reviews and then as an open studio to the public.
“We hope to have people visit from all over the United States and all over the world,” said Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Ash Eliza Smith.
Visitors will have the chance to see the student work and meet the students from the Carson Center after 15 weeks of their ideation and prototyping, designing and speculating, role-playing and improvising, filmmaking, and storytelling.
The Carson Center has been using Mozilla Hubs to teach, build community and display work during the period of virtual learning at Nebraska that began on March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mozilla Hubs is a browser-based, 3D, virtual-world chatroom accessible on most computers, mobile devices and virtual reality headsets and is also an open-source project that explores how communication in mixed reality can come to life, according to Mozilla Labs.
Ben Kreimer, a creative technologist-in-residence at the Carson Center, built virtual rooms replicating the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts’ physical space at 13th and Q streets.
“HDR architect Tyson Fiscus gave me the official sketch-up architectural model [3D files] of the Carson Center, and then I converted them and set them up inside of Mozilla Hubs,” Kreimer said.
Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Jesse Fleming said the impetus for using Mozilla Hubs was the Open Studios event.
“We had intended to have Open Studios at the end of the semester to exhibit all of the student work that they had done,” he said. “And then we had to depart the Center and go home to our respective spaces. This became a way to not only fill that void, but also to create a new opportunity—a new opportunity for teaching, a new opportunity for engagement, and a way to exhibit in ways that you can’t do in the material world. We are trying to be artists in the sense that we’re using limitations as a vehicle for providing or illuminating options and creative solutions.”
Smith said Mozilla Hubs is an extension of their Carson Center community.
“We have so many different platforms going on and discourse,” she said. “We have Canvas, Twitch, Zoom, Jitsi, Slack. And now we actually have Mozilla Hubs and exploring different ways of embodiment in this time of ‘stay home’ messaging.”
“And unlike those kinds of platforms,” Kreimer said. “Being able to communicate in 3D, it kind of brings out a lot of the other feelings. I’m looking at Jesse or I’m looking at Ash while we’re talking, which is not something you can do in text-based chat. We’re bridging what it’s like to communicate in real life.”
During their weekly IGNITEmake colloquium, students are getting familiar with the functions of Mozilla Hubs and the way they can bring in various media, including video, photos and 3D objects to the platform.
“Right now, in terms of classwork, they’re really thinking about the projects they are working on and how those will be exhibited within this 3D space as we move toward critiques, reviews and Open Studios during week 15,” Smith said.
Fleming said the Mozilla Hubs space creates community while building on what they teach in the Carson Center.
“This space gives a sense of connection that’s unfounded in other forms of virtual communication,” he said. “You feel like you’re in a bit more of a community. It also plays into areas that we’re already exploring—virtual reality, augmented reality, immersive media, virtual production.”
Smith also likes Mozilla Hubs because she finds it liberating from her physical being.
“I find this space really liberating because sometimes in Zoom, there’s too much pressure on my camera, and not that I’m always looking at myself, but just even considering the way I’m looking and everyone else is looking and all of our faces in the squares,” she said. “I feel very liberated when I’m in here hanging out. I can really play with my identity and be kind of free of my IRL [in real life] body. That feels liberating to me and helps me explore community and relationships and new kinds of ways that aren’t linked to my physical characteristics.”
“It’s also nice to be able to move around,” Fleming said. “You have this feeling of physical agency.”
Kreimer said Mozilla Hubs is also a very accessible platform.
“On the technical side of this, for example, last Friday when IGNITEmake convened and the students came in here, there were students on tablets, there were students on computers, laptops, and I’m going to assume desktops as well,” he said. “The point being Mozilla Hubs is accessible across different hardware platforms, and it all happens in the browser. And it’s free. So in terms of accessibility, it’s actually quite remarkable, especially when compared to other kinds of immersive, shared experiences. There’s really nothing else like it as a platform.”
The Carson Center is looking forward to being able to engage with the community through Mozilla Hubs at their Open Studios event.
“If we were having Open Studios in the physical Carson Center space, people can come in from the community. But now we’re taking this Hubs approach, and it’s a way for people to come together in a way that, again, is sort of a counterpoint to the way Zoom works,” Kreimer said. “When you’re in here, you can go up to people. You’ll be able to check out students’ work and interact with students. There’s an element of that kind of community event—the mingling, the social interaction that tends to be really fluid. In Hubs and in these room environments, you can bounce around between groups, between students presenting their work. It’s designed to really support that element of community engagement and conversation.”
Smith encourages everyone to visit the virtual Carson Center on May 1 to see the student work.
“We invite everyone to stop by and check out the amazing student work we will have on display at this virtual Open Studios event,” she said. “It is going to be a really fun and engaging event. A few works that really demonstrate how our students have been able to be resilient and pivot into new formats during these times are Abby and Ally Hall’s work building a virtual store where you can actually buy digital wearables with currency. Sam Rice is creating an immersive virtual sound journey inside Hubs, and Kayla LaPoure is experimenting with LARP [live action role-playing] and roleplay within an online format.”
For more information on the Carson Center, follow us on social media at @carsoncenterunl.
To see a video of Smith, Fleming and Kreimer inside the virtual Carson Center discussing Mozilla Hubs and the Open Studios event, visit this story at https://go.unl.edu/d86n.