Digital art is not just a fun, interactive method of seeing the world through a new lens — it can also be used to impact change in a local community.
This Friday, young people at the nonprofit People’s Emergency Center (PEC) will unveil a virtual experience of a drop-in center for youth experiencing housing insecurity they created in collaboration with a local media artist, Maria Alarcón.
Young people participating in PEC’s advocacy-focused Youth Healers Stand Up! program and Youth Service Inc. used free and freemium software programs such as Google Earth Studio, SketchUp, Daz 3D and Unity to create avatars of themselves leading a tour of an imagined drop-in center, called The Stoop.
After Friday, the final product will be viewable online and eventually be turned into an interactive virtual reality app using the Unity development platform. Catch an early look at the work here:
Alarcón contributed her time via the Neighborhood Time Exchange program, in which artists receive free studio space, supplies and a monthly stipend in exchange for volunteer time on community art projects.
According to Rashni Stanford, a youth housing organizer at PEC, the young people involved have engaged with virtual reality technology prior to this project, and their familiarity with programs such as SketchUp paved the groundwork for projects in development.
“They downloaded objects to fill and decorate their space, as well as [learned about] Oculus technology and ways VR can be used for educational and storytelling purposes,” Stanford said. “Some youth have taken on script writing for the narration of the tour, others took to mapping out a layout and design on paper, others worked on the placement of the avatars in the space and brainstorming which sounds would be heard in different spaces.”
Why focus on a drop-in center, specifically?
“Drop-in spaces are an essential way to help homeless or housing insecure young people. Why? Because they give them a way to stay off the streets and get inside and be safer. They also provide a place for youth to relax and unwind from the stressors in their lives,” said Trentyn Sanders, 23, a Healers youth organizer. “Young people in our own communities have told us that they need more drop-in spaces in the city with longer hours. Youth Healers Stand Up is fighting to end youth homelessness in Philadelphia and creating more drop-in spaces is one step forward towards their goal.”
The Reach for Community exhibit is being held this Friday, Nov. 8, from 5:30 to 7: 30 p.m. at 4017 Lancaster Ave. as part of PEC’s ongoing Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month event series.