IU team braves the elements in D.C. to showcase university at Smithsonian festival

Technology and tradition are colliding this week in Washington, D.C., where Indiana University has a booth at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The university is participating in the annual cultural heritage celebration as part of its “Campus and Community” program.

Visitors to IU’s booth at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival interact with the Fort Wayne-based Sisters of the Cloth quilting guild.

Art at IU couldn’t go live on the scene, so I opted for the next best thing: chatting via email with Chris Eller from the UITS Advanced Visualization Lab, who’s helping staff the university’s booth on the National Mall.

What’s the festival been like so far? Since it’s been miserably hot and dry here, how’s the weather?
The weather here in Washington, D.C., has been an exercise in extremes. We’ve experienced temperatures in the triple digits with a heat index of 115 degrees, as well as a thunderstorm with extreme winds that closed the festival for the whole day on Saturday. The winds flattened several tents and damaged the IU tent. We were able to get the tent repaired, and our technology rode out the storm in cases and under tarps. We’ve had hundreds of visitors every day, though our attendance dipped a bit when the temperature hit the high mark. The variety of presentations and visitors is astounding — people and cultural events from all across the globe are here on the National Mall.

How does IU’s booth stack up?
The IU booth is showcasing a spectrum of technology, from the traditional technology of quilting and instrument making up to our modern touch tables, the GlobalNOC WorldView displays (an interactive system that uses GPS and software developed at IU to visualize multiple layers of real-time network data) and the SciMaps displays of scientific discovery. Some of the other booths are showcasing robotics and interactive signage but, for the most part, IU is on the leading edge of integrating cutting-edge technology with traditional technology.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie inspects the university’s displays at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

What are you hearing from visitors?
Everyone loves the touch tables and the GlobalNOC WorldView displays for their interactivity. Professor Margaret Dolinsky’s “Emotable Portraits” display gets people thinking about art and interacting with art. The Sisters of the Cloth quilters are also having great conversations with visitors and keeping up a lively atmosphere in the tent regardless of the heat and humidity.

Heard from any alumni?
We’ve encountered several alumni who really enjoyed the IU presence here in Washington, D.C., and thought very highly of our presentations and content. Especially engaging are the ethnomusicology collections from the Archives of Traditional Music being shown on the GlobalNOC WorldView displays. Alumni have toured around the world and usually found an ethnomusicological study from their hometown area or where they are currently living.

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