ACCelerate Festival Showcased Innovation on a National Stage

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Two performers of the Salt Marsh Suite dance on stage at the ACCelerate Festival.
Two performers of the Salt Marsh Suite dance on stage at the ACCelerate Festival.

An estimated 36,000 people passed through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., for ACCelerate: ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival, a three-day celebration of creative exploration and research.

Virginia Tech and the Smithsonian spearheaded the national exhibition on October 13–15 to showcase cutting-edge connections between art, science, engineering, and design at universities throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Virginia Tech’s Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and the museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation served as the festival’s hosts. Fifteen universities contributed interactive exhibits, digital humanities projects, musical performances, creative art displays, and panel discussions.

Among the exhibits that College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences faculty participated in was “16 Squares,” an online augmented and virtual reality history of downtown Blacksburg that mirrors the grid that made up the town’s original design in 1798. A team of students took photos of structures in Blacksburg’s original 16 squares and modeled and texturized the 96 buildings in 3-D. The team also acquired terrain data from a quadcopter, capturing images and creating 3-D data by using photos and maps. “With this project, we’re trying to make the invisible visible,” said David Hicks, a professor in the School of Education who was one of three faculty members leading the project.

Ann Kilkelly, a professor emerita in the School of Performing Arts, joined Carol Burch-Brown, a professor emerita in the School of Visual Arts, in directing “Salt Marsh Suite.” A collaborative, inter-media arts installation and dance performance, this project was based on fieldwork, data collection, and close observation of a North Carolina coastal estuary. “Salt Marsh Suite” combined art, science, and technology in an immersive environment, engaging viewers in the magical quality of the tidal marsh and the life within it.

Charles Nichols, an assistant professor in the School of Performing Arts, composed the soundtrack — a multichannel piece looping 22 minutes of synthesized sound — that accompanied another exhibition, Beyond the Dark,” part of Dense Space: II Mobile. This audiovisual exhibit consisted of spheres in varied sizes and composed of epoxy-impregnated glass fiber that, when illuminated by light, cast shadows perceived as three-dimensional through 3-D glasses. The shadows rendered the boundary and depth of space uncertain and the location of objects in space ambiguous.

Partnering with the Smithsonian gave Virginia Tech a national stage, said Benjamin Knapp, director of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and co-chair of the festival. Knapp noted that he was excited to showcase “a collection of premier Virginia Tech projects that are living examples of how the university fuses science, engineering, art, and design to craft innovative approaches to real-world challenges.”

Adapted from an article by Jenny Kincaid Boone

The “Beyond the Dark” exhibition is an audiovisual immersive environment that seeks to manipulate perception of physical space.
The “Beyond the Dark” exhibition is an audiovisual immersive environment that seeks to manipulate perception of physical space.
A performer of the Salt Marsh Suite holds a tool used in the research and performance.
A performer of the Salt Marsh Suite holds a tool used in the research and performance.
David Hicks (center) speaks at a panel at the ACCelerate Festival called Conversation Inspiration and Personal Stories: Civic Engagement.
David Hicks (center) speaks at a panel at the ACCelerate Festival called Conversation Inspiration and Personal Stories: Civic Engagement.
A 3-D representation of the original 16 squares of Blacksburg.
A 3-D representation of the original 16 squares of Blacksburg.