‘Create and conquer’

An upcoming Voices of XR speaker is entertaining, empowering, and educating through XR
Author: Cook, Matthew
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A virtual bust of George Floyd in front of a colorful mural in the Portland, Oregon

Throughout Black History Month, we have honored African-Americans who pioneered and persisted; inspired and excelled; transformed culture, and transcended race to shape America. That’s not just history. It’s also happening right now. There are Black leaders who are using their creativity, passion, and ingenuity to build a more equitable and inclusive future. Steven Christian is among them.

Christian, owner of Iltopia Studios, a creative studio in Portland, Oregon, is on a mission to entertain, empower, and educate. His motto: Create and conquer. He is doing all of this with the help of augmented reality (AR).

At Iltopia, Christian uses immersive storytelling to illustrate the Black experience in America told from the perspective of quirky adventurer Roscoe Thomason in the comic Eyelnd Feevr. Outside the comics, he has used AR to create virtual representations of social justice issues.

For example, last May, Christian memorialized George Floyd by “installing” virtual busts of Floyd around Portland using a mobile app he designed.

“The power of AR is you get an enhanced version of the [real] world,” Christian says. “Barriers, like getting a permit to install a memorial in the middle of a city, don’t exist.”

AR may be a “barrier-free” space, but it’s not as inclusive as it should be. Christian notes that emerging technologies have evolved without contributions and influence from Black and Brown creators. That’s why he’s also trying to lower the bar of entry into extended reality (XR), working as a teaching artist in Portland Public Schools, Multnomah County Library, and Portland Community College.

On March 17, Christian is bringing his knowledge and perspective to the University of Rochester—virtually, of course. He will be delivering a Zoom talk on using innovation and emerging technology to solve problems across disciplines. The talk is part of Voices of XR, an immersive technology speaker series presented by Studio X and the Goergen Institute for Data Science with generous support from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant—part of the NSF Research Traineeship program.

Christian is one of seven XR professionals that the series will bring to Rochester next month.

“I’m particularly excited for Steven to join us because a lot of our speakers are more STEM-focused,” says Meaghan Moody, immersive technologies librarian for the River Campus Libraries. “He has all these different interests, ranging from social justice work, to art and comics, to healthcare, which give him a unique perspective and lens through which he can leverage immersive technologies. Anyone who attends his talk will see the possibilities for interdisciplinary work.” ∎

Want to attend? Register here. For more information about Voices of XR, contact Meaghan Moody at mmoody@rochester.edu. Enjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.