In 2015, BIG staffers started researching ways that Virtual Reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) might impact how we tell stories and how we might educate the public and ourselves on using this new medium for transmedia and community-based storytelling. In response, BIG co-created the Public VR Lab, which is a collaborative effort to facilitate a public dialogue around new VR-related technologies, and support the low-barrier and high quality community creation of 360, virtual and augmented content, provide access to tools and headsets, and to generate socially-relevant and locally-focused VR experiences.
The Public VR Lab springs from a tradition of accessible community media and access to the public Commons through all digital mediums of storytelling and art at Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) and Northampton Community Television (NCTV).
What is VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated environment that one can immerse oneself in. By putting on a headset or pair of goggles, one can enter and explore this virtual world, interact with the surroundings, and perform a series of actions. Augmented reality allows users to interact with both the actual physical world and the virtual world. The new game Pokemon Go! Has aspects of AR. 360 video allows filmmakers to create content in full frame, shot with two lens and stitched together in specialized software.
While VR/AR/360 technology is in its nascent stages and currently only has low levels of consumer awareness and limited access by the general public, it has been the recent talk of the technology, film, gaming, journalism and storytelling worlds. But as this new technology unfolds, who will provide the public unfettered access to these powerful creative tools and assure responsible and accessible use, and how do we think critical about this new, extremely visceral medium? That’s where BIG comes in. As a next generation community media nonprofit, we are seeking to educate, inform, and provide a new kind of accessibility in the newest medium now available to and by the community.
BIG invested in VR to help provide the public with opportunities to experience this new innovative technology, and to create community-based content in 360, VR and AR. We are currently offering free demos using the HTC VIVE headsets and controllers. These demos take place on Wednesdays from 5:00-8:00 and Fridays from 2:00-3:30 each week and at special events in Brookline. This fall, BIG will offer 360 Filmmaking classes.
As a community media arts center, we facilitate the sharing of stories as part-social justice, part-creative collaboration, part-digital storytelling, part-historical documentation, part-listening, and part media & technology education. We help community members develop stronger stories, through training, technology, partnerships and collaboration.
Thus, we are proud to have offered two rounds of grants for the production of short original works, that can include narrative fiction or documentaries. We encourage individuals and organizations in Brookline to apply for these grants, as well as those who collaborate with partner organizations and residents of Brookline.
In 2015 we awarded $5,000 in community production grants for the following projects:
- Hubway 66 by Daniel Jamous a local filmmaker, focuses on Hubway, Boston’s bike-sharing system, and explores the impact it has had on himself, other Hubway users, as well as the quality of life of the towns and communities participating in the program. The story is told from Jamous’ point of view as he is riding on his morning commute to work from Coolidge Corner to Harvard Square, with interviews, personal recollections, and music interspaced throughout the journey.
- Art Chat Brookline by Peter McDonald, a local filmmaker, visits Brookline artists in their studios as they discuss their methods, creativity, and what making art making means
to them, while demystifying the creative process for us.
- Women Moving Forward by the Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline grantee group, is a collaborative film created by a group of six Thriving women that focuses on their stories, struggles, and lessons learned about empowerment and work that can help other women in Brookline as they navigate their own journeys through work and life.
In addition to our filmmaking grants, in 2016 we created an additional community production grant for $2,000 for an interactive media project. The recipient is being given funding and training to create an interactive short video in 360 video, VR or in AR (augmented reality) that best represents stories of the community of Brookline.
All grant recipients regularly attend progress meetings where they interact with their fellow producers as a cohort to discuss their project’s progress, receive advice, learn tips from experts and each other, and help stay motivated to consistently work on and ultimately finish their project. Grantees are also given access to training and equipment at BIG, based on a first-come, first-serve basis, and a certification process. All content will be aired on BIG’s community cable and YouTube channels, and will premiere first on these channels, unless otherwise negotiated with BIG and the grantee.
Stay tuned to learn who won the 2016 production grants!
Brookline Interactive Group Offers Digital Storytelling Platform; StoryVOX To Empower Hyper Local Voices
In 2015, BIG created an innovative community-based storytelling platform, called “StoryVOX.” The storytelling project has a similar goal to other programs, like StoryCorps and Digital Storytelling, but engages people wherever they are at in the community to share short stories about their experiences. StoryVOX allows a participatory media version of a “Mad-Lib” type collective story as groups, individuals and with other members of the community over the entire summer at special events throughout Brookline, including Brookline’s Farmers’ Market, at Brookline Recreation’s Emerson Park Concert Series, and at Eureka! Puzzles, to engage residents in street-level, community-based storytelling and play.
Participants share stories around the thematic prompt in a photo booth with video and still capabilities in front of a green screen. The features of StoryVOX allows participants to express their own creativity and passions while also creating lasting memories in digital form, and inspire a community-based inclusionary process.
“StoryVOX is one part of the future of hyperlocal, community-based digital storytelling. The goal is to inspire the community with short, thematic prompts that generate authentic and engaging stories capturing the human experience, delivered locally on cable television, via YouTube and on social media.,” said Kathy Bisbee, executive director at Brookline Interactive Group.
Brookline Interactive Group hosts media and community-centric events that range from panel discussions facilitating community dialogue on local, regional and national issues, to screenings of the films created by members as part of our Community Production Grants, to documentary film clubs serving as a jumping off point around race topics, to social events that celebrate our members and the great work they do. BIG also visits community events like the Farmers’ Market and Emerson Park concert series to gather community stories and demonstrate VR, filmmaking and other media arts and education programs.
With the community journalism program, BIG offers members the chance to use their production skills outside of the studio by exploring and reporting news affecting Brookline. BIG also partners with news-focused organizations to provide local news and lifestyle segments.
With our members, staff, interns and volunteers, we share the story of the town through hyper-local journalism, with past stories covering topics from town government changes, to historic Brookline secrets, to personal resident profiles. We have bi-weekly roundtable meetings to follow up on developing stories, pitch new ones, and use the strength of the group as a resource to tackle down leads. As one of our journalists, the only limit you have is the zip code (and even that is negotiable!).
Our Documentary Film Club meets the third Monday of every month at 7:00pm at BIG. This is a free club open to the public, and popcorn will be provided!
Movies are decided on by popular vote via our online meetup group. Please let us know what you’re interested in seeing!
Join the Meetup Group Here.
Race Reels will resume in the Fall of 2016
Race Reels is a documentary film club initially created by Abby Erdmann, the recipient of the 2011 Olmstead Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching awarded by Williams College. In conjoinment with BHS, the goal of Race Reels is to provide a common experience and jumping off point for conversations about race. After each film, attendees will have an opportunity to meet with some of the individuals more directly involved with the film and ponder the issues raised by each film.
The movies begin at 6pm in the MLK Room at Brookline High School. Pizza and drinks are served at each event. A current schedule of the upcoming films and dates is listed below. To receive updates about upcoming meetings, check out Facebook and Twitter.