Managing the Mosaic of UWA by Jayjay Zifanwe

o-SSJ#13-jayjay-uwa pioneer

Jayjay Zifanwe bridges the presentation of virtual artistic achievements to the real world. He describes the development of the 3D Art Competition as a highly respected cultural achievement.

Managing the Mosaic of UWA

by Jayjay Zifanwe, University of Western Australia
(Jay Jay Jegathesan, Manager School of Physics)

Initially, I came into Second Life® with no notions of teaching, doing research, or getting involved with arts, or film. Rather, I came to set up the campus, now all part of the University of Western Australia’s presence. I founded this presence, decide what we do, and determine how we do it. In real life, I manage the School of Physics at UWA, and am working on a PhD. However, Professor Ted Snell, Director of the Cultural Precinct at UWA, provided some funds, and asked me to run something for art in SL. I had never been involved in art before, but said I will run a year-long art challenge—a very ill-advised notion for a SL noob! An experienced resident would not propose such a thing! But being a Piscean, I have always been fascinated by art. When this opportunity presented itself, like most opportunities with me, I grabbed it with both hands. It was a spur of the moment decision that lasted far beyond the one year planned!

Art brings the world together…. and often quite more than meets the eye.

Fortunately, many wonderful people have come to assist via providence, particularly FreeWee Ling as curator. We don’t have project managers aside from myself, but have a lot of volunteers who help—such as providing a poster, a design etc.—are volunteers. Managing in SL has to be a lot more collaborative than managing in real life, since, for I am not hiring people for proper wages. For anything major, I am there. For anything time-sensitive, the responsibility is mine. Assistants work on non-time-sensitive items (or when I have time to make changes, should the person originally mean to do it, and not be able to). Through the help of many, we have established such a strong program for art and machinima.

Plus, I have come to be recognized as the leader of 3D virtual projects at UWA. I give talks on SL to students often. A lot of the marketing departments at UWA invite me present on how perceptions in the virtual world impact on the real. The vice chancellor, my boss, and many of the university’s senior people, ask me to speak at a variety of functions. I have given talks in Barcelona, Sydney, Malaysia, and Brazil. My SL presentations are about 45 minutes long, and I introduce the audience to the concepts and capabilities slowly. I like to show some of the awesome machinima created through the UWA film challenges. These quickly demonstrate how SL can be used by universities, and how art works within a virtual world. Machinima is the key to breaking the real life/SL barrier, because it reaches a broad audience without them needing to log in. People need to want to come into virtual worlds to learn more about them.

Generally, those in the real world organization recognize that I run the project. I am ‘allowed’ to do what I want during work hours, as long as I do everything with my other job, too. This is recognized as part of the things I do, but if I didn’t do anything all for SL, they wouldn’t complain either. Still, it is like having 1.5 jobs!

Funding is always an uphill battle. Many individuals have seen a lot of publicity and good things with UWA in SL. But if someone funds a sim for a year, it is not automatic that they will support it for the next year. Many people who ‘like’ the idea of virtual reality might not know how to use it, or put in the effort to utilize its potential. There is only so much I can do to run four sims and the art challenges! Yet, by having big effective events, sponsors do come to us, wanting to be part of the projects. Many have a genuine interest in seeing the growth and recognition of virtual worlds. Although our land is funded by UWA, the art challenge must have a number of sponsors to make it most impactful. Keeping standards high is a major priority. The art competitions have impressive financial prizes, and are juried by a panel of in-world cultural experts, thus involving various aspects of the cultural community.

Our greatest challenge, at the start, was to gain legitimacy as an individual/group who didn’t know much about art/film. Now the greatest challenge is going beyond introducing SL as a really interesting 3D toy, to something that has a solid foundational as an integral part of UWA, not just a side project. There is potential everywhere, but it depends on how quickly the technology becomes more easily accessible. SL is very niche currently because of the learning curve. People can come in, try for thirty minutes without putting in a real effort. Then they don’t come back—without having experienced the best of what the medium can bring. More awareness can bridge this learning curve, through real life media coverage for SL efforts. Though we are successful in getting such coverage, it needs to be almost ‘constant’—with a few articles every month of various types. —Jayjay Zifanwe

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QUICK LINKS TO ISSUES
INDEX for all contributors and articles
Sim Street Journal #1: Virtual Reveals Real
Sim Street Journal #2: The Old in the New
Sim Street Journal #3: Magicians of Meaning
Sim Street Journal #4: Telling Stories
Sim Street Journal #5: Champions of Expression
Sim Street Journal #6: Overlapping Realities
Sim Street Journal #7: Luck Created
Sim Street Journal #8: Facing the Inevitable
Sim Street Journal #9: Motivated Learning
Sim Street Journal #10: Serious Fun
Sim Street Journal #11: Fantasy Fulfillment
Sim Street Journal #12: Insights from Extremes
Sim Street Journal #13: Bridging Boundaries

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