RICHFIELD, Minn. — Art takes work, and the mural at East 72nd Street and Chicago Avenue in Richfield is an example of that. Standing 80 feet wide and 12 feet tall, the rainforest mural is a reflection of community collaboration at it's best.
"In order for a rainforest to prosper, there has to be diversity," Galaxy Food owner Arun Motilall said.
Motilall and his friends began the process for the mural two years ago when Galaxy Foods decided to get the community involved in the artwork. They held a few events where they cooked for their neighbors and asked what they would like to see represented in the mural. Artist Ricardo Reyez says community members from different cultures wanted him to bring a rainforest to Richfield.
"We brought elements from a lot of cultures," Reyez said.
There is a mix of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Caribbean representation in the masterpiece. Rem5 Studios helped bring it to life outside of the walls.
People scan one of the four QR codes on the mural through their camera setting on a smart phone. They can then click the link that pops up and open Instagram to see the art pop off the building.
"Seeing people engage with technology that is basically like magic, " Amir Berenijan, Rem5 Studios CEO said, "It never gets old."
BJ Skoogs works with Berenijan. It was his idea to mix the augmented reality into the mural. He says the mural wouldn't have been possible without their community partners, and help from the City of Richfield.
"I grew up here," Skoog said. "I love it here. I think it's that bridge city. The beautiful thing about a bridge is it connects people."
Rem5 Studio plans to update the AR every so often so the art work can change without having to physically add more paint. Berenijan says AR is apart of a growing movement of art sustainability.
Steps Of Privilege is available for free on the Meta Quest via the App Lab.
We’ve talked heavily in the past about VR’s unique empathetic capabilities. In addition to entertainment, immersive technology can and is being used by numerous organizations to instill a sense of compassion while educating users on a variety of important subject matter.
This includes REM5 Studios, an XR experience agency that for the past several years has been working on Steps of Privilege, a one-of-a-kind educational experience that explores the subtleties of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Put simply, the app is a kind of privilege test designed to highlight the advantages and benefits one may inadvertently receive due to their unique social background.
“This exercise provides participants with a unique opportunity to understand and reflect on the intricacies of their own privilege in a safe and judgment-free environment, while not exploiting the stories of others,” says REM5 on their website.
Throughout the course of the exercise, participants listen and respond to 20 statements delivered by a virtual monitor. One question you might be asked, for example, is whether or not you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school. If you hear a statement that applies to you, you’ll be asked to physically move forward; if the statement does not apply, you’ll take a step back.
You can also listen to the reflections of other users by interacting with a handful of floating orbs and even leave your own. At the end of the experience, you’re able to look around the room to see how far your privileges took you compared to those with different backgrounds and experiences.
“The Steps of Privilege experience accelerates the timeline for an individual to reach an intercultural mindset, recognize where they fall in the social construct, and empowers participants to work for social justice.”
Steps Of Privilege is available for free on the Meta Quest via the App Lab and coming soon to the Quest Store as well as PC VR headsets via Viveport. The app is currently a finalist for Games for Change, an annual awards ceremony celebrating the best social impact games from around the world.
We had the opportunity to go hands-on with an earlier version of the app a while back. Since then the developers have implemented a variety of interesting features, such as hand-tracking and the aforementioned floating orbs. That said, we can’t wait to see how this unique experience continues to grow.
For more information visit rem5forgood.com/steps.
A shared community does not always produce a common experience. To be able to walk in another’s shoes to see the world from their perspective is not so easy to do. However, through a virtual reality – or rather extended reality (XR) project, Opus College of Business students, faculty, and staff had an opportunity to consider how varying life experiences can inform perspective, especially as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The immersive virtual experience as co-sponsored by Business in a Digital World and DEI initiatives at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business to expose students to the systemic inequalities prevalent in Minneapolis.
“Minneapolis is a great place to live, great schools, great place to raise a family, but when you start to pull back the layers when it comes to things like education, incarceration rates and wealth, we have some of the worst racial inequities in the country,” said Amir Berenjian, CEO of REM5 Virtual Reality Labs.
REM5 joined with RFTP (pronounced “rooftop”), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that uses storytelling to spark meaningful conversations between people with varying life experiences, to bring awareness to those racial inequities.
“We built an exhibition space called ‘One City, Two Realities’ that through data visualization, photographs, 360-degree photos, video and quotes tells the story about Minneapolis,” Berenjian said.
The XR environment is designed like a virtual museum. Students experienced the museum and its exhibits remotely using avatars. “Think of Roblox, but designed for the common good,” said Berenjian, an expert in the field of virtual reality. “One City, Two Realities” is a completely novel approach to DEI work.
As visitors to the virtual museum and exhibits, students were able to walk around George Floyd Square, march alongside protesters, witness the toppling of the Columbus statue near the steps of the St. Paul Capitol, get an up-close look of the urban graffiti and murals sprayed across retail buildings, as well as see charts, graphs and maps about wage gaps, incarceration rates and housing deficits. The students, as their avatars, were also able to engage socially and connect emotionally with other users.
The anonymous nature of the virtual experience produced conversations that differed from their traditional in-person sessions, RFTP co-founder Tim Harris explained.
“In our live sessions, there was always a hesitancy to talk, given the subject matter,” Harris said. “Being able to speak from behind the avatars gave people a veil. Some people enjoyed it, some people didn’t like it. We provided an app that allowed people to give feedback live and anonymously. That was pretty engaging. We got a lot of data,” said Harris.
RFTP co-founder Latoya Taris-James also noticed that the XR experience provided time for reflection that sparked feedback from those who might not otherwise contribute in one of their traditional sessions. “A few moments of silence gave students the opportunity to actually speak up, and you could tell it was something that they had been processing throughout the session. It gave them the extra time and space to bring what they had to the table. I think it made a huge difference.”
Taris-James added, “Everyone has something to contribute to the work ... A lot of times we hear from people that ‘I’m just A, B or C and I shouldn’t speak on this subject.’ We want to take the stigma away from this kind of work, that you need to have credentials, and reassign that value to personal experience.”
As associate dean of undergraduate and accelerated master’s programs and DEI ambassador to the Opus College of Business, Nakeisha Lewis is responsible for ensuring the authenticity of the university’s initiatives in the DEI space. While there is a risk for the university to take a chance on a new project dealing with sensitive subject matter, Lewis believes the consequences of not taking that chance are far greater.
“I wholeheartedly believe that we cannot live out our mission if we don’t do this type of work,” said Lewis. “I cannot say that we are producing principled leaders if they are not able to make the world of business more equitable.”
For RFTP, the project represented an authentic institutional investment not without risk. “We’re direct,” said Harris. “The way we go about this work is different than a lot of other organizations, and our hope is to cut through the ... pageantry of DEI work and get right to the conversations, and St. Thomas was with us every step of the way. The fact that they were willing to take a chance and spend dollars and put their money where their mouth was and engage says a lot about who they hope to be as an institution.”
Dr. Rama Hart is an associate professor of management at the Opus College of Business. The students in her Inclusive Leadership class were among the first to experience the new virtual spaces. The students were initially hesitant to weigh in on the subject matter, but Hart said they conveyed a profound impact in their subsequent written reflections.
“It was a very meaningful experience for students and probably one of the most memorable aspects of the class,” said Hart. “Talking about race and racism is very difficult in any environment, but creating an environment that allows participants to experience other realities in a multidimensional format allows students to shift their perspective. I would certainly like to use the exercise again.”
Students were asked to reflect on their experience in the virtual space. These reflections, in addition to their anonymous comments within the virtual environment, were aggregated and disseminated to the development team. The university used the data to better inform the focus of their DEI initiatives.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis has historically been praised for being one of the best places to live. It has beautiful parks, relatively well-connected bike paths. However, it still remains a place with one of the biggest racial inequality gaps in the nation.
"Whether that's red lining, educational disparities, things about housing and systemic inequities in general..." Tracy Nielsen said. Nielsen is the Executive Director of HandsOn Twin Cities, a volunteer center that coordinates companies, nonprofits and volunteers.
She said they've been partnering with REM5, a virtual reality experience company out of St. Louis Park to host something called 1 City, 2 Realities.
"1 City, 2 Realities is a virtual exhibition space, so basically it can be accessed in real time via phone or computer when people go into the exhibition," Nielsen said. "It's like walking into a museum — you have an avatar and you're navigating the space."
Nielsen says this experience has been available to her volunteers for a while, and she thought MLK day was the perfect jumping off point to introduce the public to it, so that they can participate too, without leaving their homes.
"Everyday we are working to make people think about themselves on how they can be more anti-racist as a volunteer," she said. "We really believe that by deeply informing of our history that affects our current circumstance, and the existing need, people will become better volunteers to understand those issues."
Amir Berenjian, The founder of REM 5, the company behind building this VR exhibit, says his company's mission had been the same since the beginning.
"When we first started the company about four years ago, we spent a lot of time deploying this technology for empathy building or soft skills, emotional intelligence, cultural competence, using it as an intimate storytelling medium," Berenjian said.
And ever since the company developed this exhibit, Berenjian says he's worked with schools and corporate groups to not only educate but to also help visualize what the inequities look like in numbers.
The exhibit includes dozens of items, featuring information about educational, housing and wealth gaps in our city.
"When you start to look at the data, we have some of the worst race inequities in the country across the board, so if we can open up people's eyes to that data and that content and those stories using this tool as the medium for it, and get those 10, 20, 100 people in that company to engage in discourse around that and what they can do individually and as an organization to counteract some of these systemic issues, then we've done our job," Berenjian said.
If you are interested in the exhibit as well as other events HandsOn Twin Cities is organizing throughout the week, you can find that info here.
The virtual exhibit is free to view for anyone with a computer or a smartphone, but requires registration. You can also participate in the debriefing session hosted by HandsOn Twin Cities throughout the week.
Watch the interview!
Have the Minnesota Twins been uploaded to the cloud? Not quite yet, but the team is again dipping into the digital realm.
On Thursday, the Twins announced their second “extended reality” experience, or “XR” for short. Essentially, it’s a 3D environment that fans can explore from their home computers, or via virtual reality headsets. The team launched its first XR venture back in February, enabling fans to explore a virtual “hall of fame” setting.
The latest XR experience, titled “The Art of Baseball,” features a mix of digital art related to the sport. In a news release, Twins officials note that local artists designed the three virtual displays in the XR program. Fans will also get a look at the team’s first NFT, or nonfungible token, a unique piece of digital art that will be officially auctioned off Sept. 27. On the backend, NFTs are coded in such a way to be not replicable. If you’re still scratching your head, technology news site The Verge recently published a good explainer on the topic.
NFTs are all the rage in some art circles, though, they’re said to pose serious environmental concerns due to the massive computing power they require.
The Twins’ second XR experience, meanwhile, comes with a high-profile sponsor: Richfield-based electronics retailer Best Buy is a “presenting partner” of “The Art of Baseball.”
The company “found the concept intriguing, so they signed on as a presenting partner of Twins XR as part of their existing relationship with us,” Twins spokesman Matt Hodson said in an email. The partnership is simply a sponsorship; Best Buy isn’t providing any technical expertise for the project.
Like the first edition of the Twins XR program, the second iteration was created in partnership with Minneapolis-based REM5 Studios, which bills itself as “full service XR agency.”
The “Art of Baseball” formally debuted today, but it will only be available for a “limited time,” Twins officials said. The first XR program also had a limited run, though spokesman Hodson noted that there’s an “easter egg” within the new program that will lead users back to the “Hall of Fame.”
The Twins aren’t the only Minnesota sports team to take a dive into the digital world. Last month, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx announced a “blockchain partnership,” which will one day enable fans to buy and sell digital trading cards.
Jeff Koons didn’t always want a yurt.
Like many Minnesotans, he dreamed for years about owning a cabin on a lake. But after he and his wife, Tara, secured a 7-acre piece of property about 1.5 hours north of the Twin Cities, Jeff realized something.
“I wanted something different,” he says. “Something that made people look and go, ‘What the hell are they thinking?’”
So, the couple explored several outside-the-box options, including straw bale homes, cob houses, pole barns and silo homes. Eventually, they landed on a yurt — a large, round tent used for centuries in Mongolia and other nations, and recently popularized in the U.S. for “glamping” and other adventures.
Renderings depict what life in the yurt will look like.Jeff and Tara picked out a yurt kit from Seattle-based Rainier Outdoor. They considered simply throwing the tent on a slab and perhaps adding a basic deck alongside it. But soon, their plans grew more ambitious. They envisioned a screen porch; a mudroom; even a basement. That’s when they decided they could use some help.
A team effort
Jeff and Tara began researching architects online. When they learned about Shelter, they felt our compact size and collaborative process would be a great fit. Project architect Greg Elsner and designer Jen Wojtysiak dove in, soaking up information about yurts in general, and about what specifically Jeff and Tara wanted to achieve with theirs.
“A residential project like this is very personal,” Jen notes. “We always want to work closely with the client.”
Jeff and Tara Koons worked with project architect Greg Elsner and other Shelter team members to ensure the couple’s yurt was designed to fit their family’s everyday life.The yurt work provided our team with ample opportunities to craft innovative solutions for small spaces — a longtime Shelter specialty — and to expand on ideas that Jeff and Tara brought to the table. For example, we designed an airy three-season screen porch to let in lots of natural light.
“Greg came up with a high-angle roof, which is really cool,” Jeff says. “I also like what they did with the bathroom. They made it so efficient in a very tight space.”
Floor plan and cross-section view of the yurt and its surrounding structures.In all, the Koons’ yurt complex will include a bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, a mudroom, a screen porch and wrap-around decking, all situated above an octagonal basement. Amenities will include insulation, in-floor heating, a wood-burning stove and running water. A solar array will deliver electricity, and high-speed internet service will arrive by satellite. When complete, the dwelling will include about 1,900 square feet of usable space — nearly twice as much as Jeff, Tara and their kids have in their current city house. When the yurt is move-in ready, the family plans to make it their permanent residence.
Construction on the project won’t start until next year, but Jeff and Tara recently got to “walk through” their yurt via virtual reality, a service we offer to many of our clients. At REM5 in St. Louis Park (another Shelter client), the couple got a sense of the yurt’s size and how it will feel to live and move around within it.
Tara and Jeff Koons got an inside look at their future home, courtesy of virtual reality.“ The VR experience was great,” Jeff says. “It gave a good impression of the layout and flow of the building. They even programmed in the surrounding terrain, so we were able to see what our views will be like.”
As their dream home comes closer to becoming a reality, Jeff and Tara are pleased that they didn’t attempt an entirely DIY approach to its design. They’re confident that they’ll love living in their yurt, and that their visitors — even the skeptics — will walk away impressed.
“Everybody at Shelter has been so supportive and excited,” Jeff says. “They came up with really elegant ideas to make the space work and flow. It’s turned into something pretty nifty and unique and special. It was a no-brainer to bring an architect on board.”
Slap on a pair of goggles and get ready to enter another reality, far from our physical one. Except you won't leave the Twin Cities, or even go outside. Instead, you'll see virtual realities created by six artists.
Friday at REM5, a VR laboratory and event space based in St. Louis Park, Twin Cities artists will race against the clock and their own creativity in Tilt Brush Battle, a 30-minute timed VR-art creation challenge.
A live audience will decide who moves on to Round 2, and who's crowned the winner.
The format — competitive reality TV show meets VR — is the brainchild of REM5 Studios director Brian Skalak, who is also an artist working in VR.
REM5 has had artists-in-residence who took 10 hours to create a VR piece, but Skalak wanted to shorten the time and make it into an event.
"The artists need to be strategic, "asking: What can I get done quick enough and what is going to look good?" he said.
Despite its virtual nature, the event is in-person only and won't be livestreamed, though there will be video content at a later date.
Artists will work in Tilt Brush, which Skalak calls the "O.G. of three-dimensional painting" — a Google product that's a code word for "forever-ago" in tech time.
Artists Sherstin Schwartz (@Lifeofapaintbrush), Linnea Maas (@insidetherobot), Philip Noyed (@philipnoyed), Matt Semke (@catswilleatyou_art), Ross Auger (@rossauger), and Alex Narva have mixed experience with VR. Some have up to five years' experience, while others are newer to the program. All will be compensated, and the winner takes home a hip championship fanny pack with the icon of a gold medal on the front.
Maas, a painter and illustrator, started making three-dimensional art using Tilt Brush in 2016, the year Google introduced it. She felt intrigued by the opportunity to create an entire world rather than just an object. She started out with an audio-reactive brush that glows with the beat of the music she's listening to.
Noyed and Schwartz also have experience in VR, but that's not the point. It's really about playing the game, strategizing to ensure that a fantastic VR artwork can be completed in 30 minutes.
Skalak felt inspired by the competitive TV show "The Shot," which pits photographers against each other, as well as tattoo and body painting competitions.
The in-person audience — REM5's first since the pandemic — will be able to mingle, eat, drink and listen to live music while watching the artists create in their individual VR pods. After the artists are done, audience members can "pop on the headset and step directly into that world" created by the artists, said Skalak.
During the contest, he'll function like a sports commentator: "I'll be like, 'She's bringing in the sparkle brush, what's she gonna do?!?' "
The audience will up the ante.
"It's like 'Fight Club,' " said Skalak. "It's underground, you've got to be in the know, and it seems like it would only be happening in a movie, but it's here in the Twin Cities."
Nic Zabel ’21 and Erica Schultz ’21 just graduated into an economy where technological disruption is not the exception but the rule. A technology-focused marketing course, MKTG 430 – Marketing Management, aims to better prepare students like Zabel and Schultz for this reality via real-world experience consulting with local tech firms.
The course is one example of the University of St. Thomas Business in a Digital World (BDW) initiative in action. The initiative is a holistic approach to equipping students with competencies in emerging technologies essential to all future professionals. For marketing majors like Zabel and Schultz, this learning came in the form of a semester-long capstone project pairing teams with local tech entrepreneurs. Zabel and his team consulted with REM5, a Minneapolis-based virtual reality lab and event space. Shultz and her team focused on ReMember, a first-of-its-kind restaurant loyalty mobile app platform designed by Matty O’Reilly ’19 MBA, a 28-year veteran of the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Marketing Professor Gino Giovannelli teaches the capstone course. Being an engineer by training and having founded his own digital marketing consulting firm, Giovannelli is uniquely qualified to guide students through this hands-on experience. For Giovannelli, there is no magic involved in the emerging tech space. “It’s about recognizing that while the technologies may be new, the key is to not be intimidated by the unknown. And it is important for students to really dig in and understand the business first and the technology second, and to not cut corners in the process of understanding the business,” Giovannelli said. “These students couldn’t cut corners because the products were foreign to them.”
Lisa Abendroth, director of the Business in a Digital World initiative, explained that the students are responsible for knowing the bounds of their technological competency. The impetus is on the university to provide a psychological environment where students feel safe enough to admit what they don’t know. “[As a student] I have to have the humility to say, ‘I don’t know some of this stuff and now I need a safe space to be able to explore it.’ We provide students with that psychological safety,” Abendroth said.
The class had a significant impact on the students and business owners alike. Over the course of the semester, the students developed a comprehensive marketing strategy for their business partners and presented it via Zoom. For some, it was their first experience serving as consultants. “This is the first time I’ve ever collaborated with a company. I felt like I was making a difference and getting real-life working experience as a professional,” Zabel said.
REM5 co-founder Amir Berenjian was impressed with both students and the work they produced. “We had an extremely productive and mutually beneficial engagement with the St. Thomas students,” said Berenjian. “For us, it was a great way to get raw insight and perspective from the demographic that is on the doorstep of driving digital innovation for decades to come. For the students, it was valuable exposure to disruptive technologies like VR and AR and also an exciting look behind the curtain of entrepreneurship and start-ups. Programs like this really help bridge the gap between textbooks and the real world, so kudos to St. Thomas and the students for driving this initiative forward.”
O’Reilly was equally impressed by the students and their presentation for ReMember. He came away from the experience with some key considerations about prioritizing the onboarding of restaurants over end users. “Very thorough and really well done … Awesome job all around,” said O’Reilly.
As important as it was for the students to immerse themselves in their chosen technology, Giovannelli explained that whether the product is tech-based or not, the success or failure of the effort will come down to relationships. “It’s about an ability to work effectively in teams with a client … Once you get past [the technology], it’s just marketing, and it’s just working with people,” said Giovannelli.
Giovannelli is passionate about preparing his students for the reality of their world after graduation. “It’s like the dress rehearsal to the big show. This time it’s for a grade, soon it’s for real,” he said. But he is confident that his students will be successful because he sees in them a drive and a hunger to learn and grow. “This generation is the generation that just figures it out. They don’t need to be told how to do it. They just need to be told to do it, and they go out and get it done.”
Don't worry, you don't have to keep the kids bored in the house all summer. We have some ideas for how to keep them occupied with fun activities all across Minneapolis.
1. Virtual Reality/Gaming
Keep your video-game-loving kids active by exploring the world of virtual reality. REM5's state-of-the-art VR Lab is a hit for all ages and interests. Get your kids off the couch and transform them into Spiderman, a fruit ninja, a star quarterback and more.
If your kids missed out on field trips while everyone was trying out distanced learning, they'll be excited to hear about all the new exhibits happening at our museums. The Bakken, Walker Art Center, Science Museum, Mia, American Swedish Institute and The Bell Museum are all ready to welcome you back and expand your knowledge.
3. Cooking Classes
Have an aspiring chef experimenting in your kitchen? Get them some professional training with Cooks of Crocus Hill's Kids Camps. Classes range from global cuisine to baking to recreating popular restaurant dishes.
4. Solve a Puzzle
Get your kids thinking creatively by trying to solve their way out of an escape room at Trapped Puzzle Rooms. Race against the clock while finding clues in "Diagonal Alley", uncover secrets in a supervillain's lair or travel back in time and help save a kingdom.
5. Beaches and Parks
Do your kids need some place to release their energy? Minneapolis is full of parks and beaches where you can run and swim, and still keep your distance.
Beaches are open during regular park hours, from 6 a.m. to midnight daily. Check individual beaches to see when lifeguards will be on duty.
If you don't feel like swimming, why not take a picnic to the park? With so many takeout options, and plenty of green space to spread out, social distancing suddenly doesn't seem so bad. Grab your favorite food, bring a blanket, and enjoy some outdoor time with the kids!
6. Water Taxi
If your kids enjoy being out on the water then they'll love the Minneapolis Water Taxi experience. This hour-long boat ride can accommodate a family of 6 and takes you on a trip up and down the Mississippi River. The whole family will get to take in incredible views of the city and appreciate some nice relaxing time on the river.
7. Patio Dining
The whole family can enjoy a mix of food and sunshine, by going out to lunch at one of the many patios that are now open. It's the perfect way introduce your kids to your favorite restaurant spots around the city.
8. Go Out for Ice Cream
What could be better on a hot summer day than a scoop or two...or three of ice cream? Many Minneapolis ice cream shops serve up plenty of unique flavors that are sure to put a smile on your kid's face.
9. Minnesota Zoo
Visit our animal friends again at the Minnesota Zoo. Take a stroll through the tropical rain forest enjoying natural waterfalls and exotic wildlife. Afterwards, wander around Discovery Bay and marvel over the serene aquariums and marine wildlife. Or learn about what's in our own backyard at the Minnesota Trail. Whichever road you take you'll find endless learning opportunities.
10. Twins Game
Get your kids cheering for the home team at a Minnesota Twins game. Target Field provides a beautiful outdoor atmosphere, delicious and kid-friendly food options and a reason to dance, sing and sometimes even yell and shout in public.
What to know about the upcoming partnership between REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory and The Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF):
“Storytellers have been innovating with technology for decades, and VR/AR technology is the next generation of tools for their craft. We’re extremely excited to partner with TCFF to showcase these powerful new mediums and highlight some of the true pioneers in the space.”
For more information about REM5 and TCFF, read the release below. Also, don’t miss our interview with REM5 CEO Amir Berenjian on The tech.mn Podcast!