ARTS Lab lives in the intersection of art, research and technology. Dome poems, expressing culture through technology and giving teachers new ways to teach nutrition are just a few projects that earned ARTS Lab the 2013 International Digital Media Association Innovative Program Award from the International Digital Media & Arts Association (iDMAa). 

Tim Castillo, associate professor of architecture in the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning, is also in his fourth year as director of ARTS Lab. He said, “It is an honor to receive this award. It acknowledges the hard work and the team approach we have in ARTS Lab. What we do in New Mexico sets us up to be a leader in digital media.”

Kurt Kratchman of iDMAa said that ARTS Lab earned their attention because of its effectiveness in championing digital media and digital arts in its interdisciplinary sphere, everything from computer science to law and communication. “This award promotes innovative work and leadership in this area. ARTS Lab is recognized for the curriculum and the design of curriculum as well as the quality of their output. The selection of ARTS Lab for the Innovative Program Award was a unanimous decision by the board,” he said.

Kratchman said that at their conference, which draws attendees from around the world, ARTS Lab will be able to showcase their work. “We get a chance to recognize them, but we also see that they created a platform for others to learn from. We promote best practices.”

ARTS Lab supports experimental artistic research and production through emerging technologies. It is an innovative interdisciplinary center that crosses over and connects art, science, business and technology. ARTS Lab strives to become a key catalyst for the education and research that will grow and sustain an advanced media industry in New Mexico.

ARTS Lab is housed in the Digital Garage, a black box space outfitted to support performance, experimentation and research in digital graphics, sound and real-time immersive projection systems. The Garage’s major resources include a 15 foot diameter hemispheric domed projection surface built in partnership with the LodeStar Astronomy Center, a large-scaled motion capture system, and a sizable green-screen environment.

Grants support most of ARTS Lab's projects. “We have received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and even the Department of Defense,” Castillo said. 

“The DoD funded a teaching grant through which we collaborated with the Institute of American Indian Arts to look at use of immersive technology through a filter of other cultures and different experiences,” he explained. IAIA has a larger dome, rendering a “kiva experience” that they were able to use in classes taught jointly at UNM and IAIA in Santa Fe. Students were challenged and supported to create films using gigapixel spherical photography, 2D and 3D animations, keyed video and compositing techniques.

“The DoD recognizes the assets we have in the state with Native Americans, Hispanics and their historical relationships with the environment. We position ourselves to combine technology with cultural assets,” Castillo said.

NEA provided an Art Works grant to ARTS Lab to support creation of Dome Poems: Memory and Emergence, a 20-minute immersive film to commemorate New Mexico's centennial in 2012. It will feature poetic and photographic reflections on the past 100 years of culture and regional identity in the Indo-Hispano communities of northern New Mexico. “It will feature spoken work and imagery in a digital expression of what it means to be from New Mexico,” Castillo said, adding that it will premier in Albuquerque, and will also be shown in Silver City and the plaza in Taos.

The collaborative effort between New Mexico State Centennial Poet Levi Romero, photographer and filmmaker Miguel Gandert, who is also director of the UNM Interdisciplinary Film & Digital Media program; and immersive media artist Hue Walker – all New Mexico artists – both looks at the state's past while simultaneously looking to the future.

Another component of the ARTS Lab is research in geo-spatial technologies, currently they are developing a multi-faceted study of the corridor between Sandia and Isleta Pueblos along the river. “It involves searching through archives and exploring the history and evolution of the use of water, of culture, architecture and more. The goal is to migrate the data into an educational setting for K-12,” he said. And speaking of collaboration and interdisciplinary work, this project engages Enrique Lamadrid, Spanish & Portuguese; Troy Lovata and Chris Holden, Honors; and Rebecca Sanchez, College of Education. It builds on previous research he and Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean, School of Architecture and Planning, conducted on Embudo, N.M.

The Embudo project had, like the Sandia-Isleta project has, a goal to develop a digital archive using interactive media and open source applications to generate a multi-faceted public community database.

The data model is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort that examines boundaries of traditional architectural research and moves toward teams of students and faculty whose expertise lie in a variety of disciplines. Areas of expertise include landscape architecture, historical preservation, architecture, community and regional planning, economics and demographics, informatics and digital visualization.

“It's about the use of traditional methods – use of archives and oral histories – but also involves bringing history forward,” Castillo said.

The United States Department of Agriculture, Hispanic-Serving Institution grant they received was dedicated to nutrition. “We created new data networking systems to teach nutritionists how to work in different settings,” Castillo said, noting that the goal was to develop an online database using Integrated Learning Systems, or hardware or software solutions designed to deliver instructional content. ILS allows the content to be measured through various assessment and management tools. “It becomes the backbone for medical personnel and nutritionists to work with it,” he added.

Kratchman said, “Digital media programs around the country are inconsistent. Some are more viable than others. What we see in ARTS Lab is good design, good curriculum with relevance to the work force.”