By Amy Harwath/CU-CitizenAccess.org — Four University of Illinois students created an interactive mural reflecting the history of Champaign that will be part of the North First Street Revitalization Project.
The mural, which will span three walls at the Rose & Taylor Barber and Beauty Shop, owned by William and Carla Jones, was a result of a project for a new media class with Kevin Hamilton, an associate professor of art and design at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The class focused on collaboration and large-scale imaging.
Although the group’s mural was selected in December 2012, it is not yet displayed. The Public Art League donated three-hundred dollars of the needed $3,000 to print and install the mural. Hamilton is spearheading the fundraising efforts.
Danielle Sheppard, Hugh Sato, Acton Gorton, and Patrick McPherson — two new media majors, a PhD student in informatics and a cinematography major — were the makers of the digitally-created mural, which will be printed on vinyl. Sheppard and Gorton also work for CU-CitizenAccess.
“After talking to William, it did become apparent that he valued where you come from, just as much as where you’re going,” Sheppard said. “And we kind of took that to heart and had that inspire us to follow both a historical approach, but one that also led up to present day and the possibility of the future.”
The hallway images depict a scroll filled with old photographs flowing along the two hallway walls over sanborn maps. A third wall, not currently scheduled to be put up, shows aerial views of downtown Champaign spanning over sixty years, featuring First Street in the center of the wall and a train running below.
Finding imagery was a big challenge for the group, Sheppard said, because much has not been centrally archived. The group gathered old photos from the Urbana Free Library archives, the eBlack CU archive, and from TJ Blakeman, a city planner for Champaign.
“A concept we wanted to incorporate was having a human presence in something so digital. Because that’s what the mural’s about, the people and the history of downtown Champaign and downtown North First Street,” Sheppard said.
The team hand-drew the scroll image using Cintiq, a digital pen and tablet tool, and also used stylized brushes in Photoshop “to give an organic feel to something so computerized and digital,” Sheppard said.
An additional challenge was the sheer size of the project.
“You’re printing for a wall,” Sheppard said. “So the imagery has to be at a large enough size so that once you have it full-scale, nothing becomes pixelated, everything is crisp, everything is legible.”
“We started out by going and visiting the barbershop,” said Sheppard. “We talked to the barbers and William to get a feel for the place and what they might even want out of the murals.”
Acton Gorton, one of the team members who created the mural, said that the imagery is meant to tell a story about the community and create a dialogue across generations.
“For the Rose & Taylor Barber Shop, its important that discussion is encouraged, whether its political, economic, social or whatever… nothing should be taboo,” said Gorton. “The important thing is that they know disagreement is likely and it’s important that in order to feel safe discussing controversial ideas that everyone remains free from judgment.”
The mural is more than a picture; it’s also digitally interactive. Gorton came up with the idea of including a new interactive technology called “augmented reality” within the imagery. Similar to QR codes, people can hold their smartphones or tablets up to the mural’s images to receive more information on their device. However, QR codes are unnecessary, because augmented reality uses the entire image as a fingerprint, Gorton explained.
“We can satisfy the aesthetic needs of the space, encourage discussion and allow children to explore the space in a creative way,” said Gorton. “Because Augmented Reality is so new and untested, I expect for everyone to want to know what it is and test it out. So why not allow them to test it in a meaningful way?”