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This augmented reality app creates a virtual monument to McKeldin Fountain

NONUMENT 01::McKeldin Fountain, which launches at event on May 19, recreates the fountain and its role as a public space.

McKeldin Fountain returns in augmented reality. (Photo via Facebook)

McKeldin Fountain is no longer a feature of the Inner Harbor, but the Brutalist architecture and voices that populated Pratt and Light prior to the controversial demolition in 2016 are being recreated through an augmented reality app.

NONUMENT 01::McKeldin Fountain is a virtual monument that memorializes the fountain, said artist and UMBC professor Lisa Moren, who is leading the project to create and release the app. The app aims to show how people from all walks of life gathered at the fountain and adjoining plaza, and Moren, with one focus being its role as a “free speech zone” where movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy gathered.

By holding up a phone or tablet like a protest sign in McKeldin Square, users see a recreation of the fountain, complete with koi fish and other features signaling activities that once happened there. It contains clips from interviews that Moren conducted with 18 people, including activists from groups like Women in Black, artists, rappers, an ACLU lawyer and an ice skater.

The app is set to officially launch Saturday, May 19, at an event in McKeldin Square. The event takes place from 1-4 p.m., followed by the opening of a corresponding art exhibition at Maryland Art Place.

The Nonument concept of creating living memorials in urban spaces was created by Martin Bricelj Baraga and Neja Tomšič of the Museum of Transitory Art in Lubljana, Slovenia. Moren worked with that team and artist Jaimes Mayhew initially set out to bring the concept to the 35-year-old McKeldin Fountain before it was demolished. The handling of the demolition, which was led publicly by Downtown Partnership of Baltimore (which also unveiled the current plaza at Pratt and Light in 2017), drew opposition from the arts and design community, among others. The Nonument project is particularly highlighting its role as a public space.

“It’s a place where a lot of different types of people go, from age, race social status, economic background, and it was going through a transition in the fact that the brutalist fountain… was slated to be demolished,” Moren said.

“We thought the demolition might change that status,” she said.

Protesters using the Nonument 01 app. (Courtesy photo)

Protesters using the Nonument 01 app. (Courtesy photo)

Working with augmented reality offered a chance to recreate the fountain, as well as the public space. The Imaging Research Center (IRC) at UMBC and the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund at Johns Hopkins provided grants. After a model was created, local AR/VR studio BaltiVirtual built the app. The project also received funding from a Baltimore Women in Tech Micro Grant.

Using AR to bring the past to life is an approach we’ve encountered in museums, but this is the first we’ve seen of bringing the concept to a public space.

“We hope that Baltimore will own this as a 21st century monument to the everyday people,” Moren said.


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