Austin Digital Heritage Project

Austin Digital Heritage Project

We’re using oral histories and VR to “restore” legendary locations like the Harlem Theater across East Austin.

Goals: Build a community of practice that

1) Provides professional level training and employment within the creative economy.

2) Builds a virtual archive featuring oral histories of older residents of color.

3) Promotes multi-generational events that raise awareness of Austin’s cultural heritage through immersive storytelling.

Volunteer or Donate to support this effort!

Some history…

For more than a decade, E4 Youth has been partnering with high school Career and Technology Education teachers to provide trained Creative Mentors that run their enrichment clubs. Creative Mentors are college age students that we recruit and train to help students learn employability skills and build quality digital portfolios that are rewarded with access to industry events like South By Southwest, laptops, cameras and paid summer internships working on campaigns for clients like Lyft, Whataburger and Southwest Airlines.

A group of summer interns present their campaign ideas to executives at Lyft and their coaches at the Austin ad agency McGarrah Jessee.

In addition to leading clubs, Creative Mentors have access to our network of industry partners in advertising, media production and technology where they can network and build their own portfolios. They are also eligible for employment with our partners via the Shadow the Pros summer internship program as well as full time employment opportunities.

Last year, we made made a concerted effort to invest more into our Creative Mentors. We expanded our talent pool from 10–25+ by providing stipends for our aspiring Creative Mentors that attended weekly capacity building activities with E4 Youth staff and industry professionals.

We took our newly developed VR Storytelling Curriculum, which allows youth to tell immersive stories about any neighborhood in the world, and began researching Austin’s vanishing cultural roots. We used that research to develop four prototypes based on key East Austin locations and showcased our work during South By Southwest. This is how the concept of Digital Docent began.

A Digital Docent showcases immersive experiences at South By Southwest 2019.

Dig·i·tal Do·cent /ˈdijidl/ /ˈdōsənt/ — a person who acts as a guide by collecting and curating oral histories through a combination of immersive storytelling interactions, physical tours and events.

Digital Docent is another pathway to training and employment for our college age students. Many times, these students come to us with a wealth of talent but very limited portfolios. This issue is compounded when these students have to work part time jobs in fast food or retail while also attending college full time. Their wealthier counterparts often have more time to work unpaid internships, tap into their social networks for creative experiences, build portfolios and eventually move on to well paying jobs within the creative economy.

Whether it is writing, photography, illustration, coding, audio/video production, UX design or event planning, training and employment as a Digital Docent provides them with an array of opportunities to find and develop their creative passion. They go out into the community and work with seniors to document their oral histories. Then, they work directly with industry professionals to leverage the content they collect into immersive Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality experiences that provide insights into Austin’s cultural history.

Imagine approaching a street corner, pointing your phone at a sign and being served a selection of oral histories of residents that have lived and worked there over the past century or clicking hot spots on a map and having the option of putting on a VR headset that transports you back in time as you hear these oral histories. These are the types of experiences our Digital Docents are learning to deliver.

A senior views an immersive story about Austin’s cultural roots.

Call to Action

The Austin Digital Heritage Project is a coalition of public and private community stakeholders that helps propel this process forward. Over the next year, our goals are to:

  1. Train and employ 40+ youth of color
  2. Collect and curate 150+ oral histories of older residents of color
  3. Host multi-generational events that celebrate and explore the histories of people of color in Austin

Join our Community of Practice by volunteering and/or making a donation today!

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