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If walls could talk: Augmented reality brings history to life in Galveston

Valerie Wells | The Galveston Daily News | Jun 14, 2021

A team of artists works on the “Absolute Equality” mural on the side of the Old Galveston Square building near the corner of 22nd Street and The Strand in downtown Galveston on Monday, March 15, 2021. The 5,000-square-foot mural features an augmented reality platform where people can download an app and move their smartphones over the mural to connect with links to additional historic information. JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News


Danny Asberry El held out his mobile phone and scanned part of the “Absolute Equality” mural at the corner of 22nd Avenue and The Strand.

Instantly, his phone app recognized the painting and offered videos, recordings and text regarding the massive mural’s background and context.

He did the same thing in front of the traditional Juneteenth historical marker Thursday to demonstrate how to access the innovative meeting of technology, art and culture.

Asberry El is founder and president of Solel International, a nonprofit organization based in Houston. Solel International added augmented reality elements to the mural and to many historic markers in Galveston.

“Our purpose is to revive communities through arts and culture,” Asberry El said.

Augmented reality refers to using technology to supplement an image with digital information. Solel International created videos, music, art and words, then added those in digital form.

The organization partnered with the creators of Uncover Everything, a mobile app that allows anyone to walk up to particular sites and access videos and more details about what they’re looking at. The app is free, and Asberry El visualizes creating more art on the app for more historical sites in Galveston.

Asberry El didn’t just oversee the work. He and members of his organization wrote the scripts, acted in the videos, filmed them, directed them, made costumes, wrote music and lyrics.

The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau will launch a website this week with videos of interviews with local historians to go with each of five stops on the Freedom Trail.

“We are working with Danny to add all five of the Freedom Walk videos to the Uncover Everything app,” said Melody Smith, marketing director for the bureau. “We’re so excited about this.”

She is already brainstorming ideas for more augmented reality projects.

“What about The Firsts of Texas?” she said.

Galveston has many of the state’s first important institutions, including the first post office, the first opera house, the first building built solely for a newspaper and the first medical college.

Solel International has added augmented media for other historical sites on the island such as the Battle of Galveston historical marker at the Texas Seaport Museum on Pier 22.

“Danny will be able to link to as many historic markers as possible anywhere around town,” said Sam Collins III, a Juneteenth Legacy Project co-chair.

“Galveston can be an augmented reality city and be a model for other cities to embrace this technology,” Collins said. “It’s good for tourism in general.”

It’s also good for locals and for building community, Asberry El said.

“If you do it through the arts, people can express themselves how they wish,” Asberry El said. “If they need some correction or even if we need correction, there is the platform to be corrected but in a loving space.”


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