People, businesses, and educational institutions come to Second Life (SL) through many different routes. Sometimes these forays into our virtual world are short-lived. For the University of Western Australia (UWA), the experiment has become an established and highly respected venue for artistic expression and development.
UWA’s first venture in 2007, establishing a virtual presence on the university’s server, won the Google Earth Build Your Campus in 3D Competition. Jay Jay Jegathesan, UWA’s Manager of the School of Physics, remembers, “this carried national press coverage,” which allowed successful fundraising for “the next, most important step…the journey into Second Life.”
While Jegathesan, known in SL as JayJay Zifanwe, is, to many, the unofficial face of the UWA in SL, he is part of a brilliant team, including Professor Ted Snell, Director of the Cultural Precinct at UWA; John Stubbs, Director of Student Services at UWA; Professor Ian McArthur, Head of School, Physics; UWA former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Robson; and FreeWee Ling, UWA Curator of virtual arts.
In June 2009, UWA took its first steps into Second Life. Originally, the plan was simply to recreate portions of its campus, complete with its peacocks, rainbow lorikeets, ducklings in the reflecting pond, and amazing foliage in the UWA Sunken gardens and Tropical Grove. “But then,” Jegathesan says, “through a series of amazing coincidences and unexpected collaborations, it grew beyond just a campus in SL to a presence that supports teaching, research, art, architecture and machinima.”
At first the UWA was completely unknown and inexperienced in the virtual art and machinima world of SL, but that didn’t last long. The virtual UWA team hit the ground running with art and film challenges, which stirred excitement in the virtual art and film community. “The first year of the major art & film challenges changed that, and we started to build a name, and I guess we started to build trust between artists and filmmakers,” Zifanwe states.
The first rounds of film and art challenges ran in 2009 – 2010, receiving more than 800 art entries and more than 70 machinima submissions. It was a huge critical success. The Second Life community embraced the work done by the UWA and the artists, establishing the UWA in SL as a major presence. UWA SL’s challenges and accomplishments attracted positive reviews, attention and praise from all quarters, including an “increasing number of research and journal papers that have been produced, linking the work done by UWA in SL to helping establish a global community.”
Recently, the UWA SL turned its vision toward the significant benefits Second Life’s virtual world offers to those who are disabled or deal with chronic illness. In partnership with DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts, Australia), the Virtual Ability Group, the Centre for ME/CFS and Other Invisible Illnesses Group, UWA in SL organized The Freedom Project, a 2D/3D art and film event which showcased the work of artists across the world who self-identify as having a disability. All submissions engaged the theme of “freedom” and demonstrated in some way how virtual worlds helped the artists or those around them. A book commemorating The Freedom Project and featuring the submissions and personal stories of the contributing artists will be published soon.
This summer the UWA in SL will be running another bevy of art and film challenges, which will include approximately L$500,000 in awards. Those interested in submitting their work for the challenges or visiting the UWA in SL should check the UWA blog for updates and information (http://uwainsl.blogspot.com.au) and join the UWA 3D Art & Design Challenge group in-world.
Zifanwe encourages anyone interested in the arts and virtual film to learn more about the UWA in SL and the challenges. He notes, “You can participate as an artist, a filmmaker, a fan of the arts, a sponsor, a partner for various events, and perhaps other ways.”
For the UWA’s Second Life campus, real life UWA alumnus and founding curator of art at the UWA sims, quadrapop Lane, masterfully created a plinth containing, in part, the following words:
“In Second Life, as in first life, it is the people who make a project happen. You can have the best environment in the world, but it will be lifeless without the people.”
The creative community in Second Life, and those who enjoy their virtual artistry, are supported, encouraged, challenged, and rewarded by the University of Western Australia in Second Life. And that’s a legacy to be proud of.