In the Moment: ‘Off the Wall’ at George Mason University on Saturday, April 18th

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Its title beckons with a “come hither” attitude; Off the Wall. Three small intriguing words that are total catnip when strung together. And, then a connection to something called the Virginia Serious Game Institute. Seriously. Hoo-ha. Now this seems something to investigate.

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So without a moment’s pause I dug deeper.

I learned that Off the Wall wants to engage the community well beyond the campus gates of George Mason University in an interactive arts experience that will span cutting-edge new Computer Game and App Design and media such as Film and Video Studies as well as a wide-range of visual arts programs in the School of Arts. There will be an exhibition of a “Green Studio,” a space for work that combines ecology with art. There will be a “Print Promenade,” which combines music and dance with printmaking, papermaking and bookmaking. Guests will also be able to explore photography, sculpture, painting, graphic design and drawing.

Is this the same old suburban Fairfax County? This sounds like an adventure.

The Off the Wall event has another important purpose, one that is oriented to providing opportunities for Mason students. The benefit event will support student scholarships in the Computer Game Design program, Film and Video Studies program and School of Art at George Mason University. A worthy cause in this day of high student loan debts even for those attending a public university.

How will scholarships be benefited? One example, Off the Wall will feature a silent auction of original works by distinguished artists. Artists and galleries included in the silent auction include Joan Belmar, courtesy of the Adah Rose Gallery; Ito Briones, courtesy of the artist; Paula Crawford, courtesy of Long View Gallery; Frank Day, courtesy of Addison/Ripley Fine Art; Billy Friebele, courtesy of Paul So and Hamiltonian Gallery; Jason H. Green, courtesy of Artists Circle Fine Art; Francie Hester, courtesy of the artist; Jae Ko, courtesy of Marsha Mateyka Gallery; Workingman Collective, courtesy of Hemphill Fine Arts; and Elyn Zimmerman, courtesy of the artist. In addition, original works by noted George Mason University faculty and graduate students will be for sale.

Now that is a full plate, so let’s focus on two of the many compelling arts experiences that Off the Wall will be providing. This column is based upon interviews with two Mason professors. They are:

Scott Martin, Associate Professor of Game Design, Music Composition and Arts Entrepreneurship, Assistant Dean for Technology, Research and Advancement, and Giovanna Chesler: Director of the Film and Video Studies Program, Associate Professor in the Communication Department, Concentration Head for the Film and Video Studies concentration in the Master of Interdisciplinary Studies program, and affiliated faculty in Women and Gender Studies.

Scott Martin:

David: For those not familiar with the George Mason University Computer Game Design program, please tell me a bit about it.

Scott Martin. Photo courtesy of George Mason University Creative Services.
Scott Martin. Photo courtesy of George Mason University Creative Services.

Scott: The Mason Computer Game Design Program combines the study of the sciences and the arts, and offers a project-based, team-based undergraduate BFA curriculum primarily taught by game industry professionals. Our MA degree focuses on writing for games, business aspects and studio management side of games, and the instruction, or education of game technology.

Why is the Computer Game Design program a “transformational” area of study?

The study of computer game design required courses in calculus, physics, and programming, but also in art, design, animation, music composition, and even writing for games, all combined. Computer game Design includes the arts, but is also defined as a STEM degree in the federal Department of Education.

One could say, all the arts are represented in game design- dance = motion capture, theater= character development, stage craft, etc… art= animation and modeling, music= game music and sound, all combined with technology and the sciences to make it work… what other single area of study requires so many others to be successful?

How will Computer Game Design program students participate in the Off the Wall event?

We will have a Game Arcade type layout featuring multiple student games to play and we’ll highlight a few company products from our Virginia Serious Game Institute (CSGI), our game and simulation startup incubator on our Prince William Campus. Visit here and here.

What would you like the public to come away with after attending the Off the Wall event?

The amazing quality of our student work! The Computer Game Design program students will present 3D and 2D immersive game solutions, both entertainment and serious games, including a firefighter commander training module used by the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Department, a 3D MMO called Mimycx that teaches graduate students in the health fields inter-professional education competencies, and a few fun entertainment games as well.

Giovanna Chesler

David: For those not be familiar with the George Mason University Film and Video Studies program, what does “FilmReveals” mean?

Giovanna Chesler. Photo courtesy of George Mason University Creative Services.
Giovanna Chesler. Photo courtesy of George Mason University Creative Services.

Giovanna: Each year, the Film and Video Studies faculty select a theme that informs our programming choices and poses a question to the students. It sparks a conversation around the making of and study of film. Last year we selected #FilmisPowerful which got us thinking about the impact of film, but also issues of power and access that sometimes negatively impact our industry. With #FilmReveals we want students, viewers and makers to consider how film reveals stories that need to be heard, film reveals emotions and truths that may otherwise be obscured and then literally, the nature of the medium itself, is revealing visually speaking.

I understand students are expected to work with local organizations. Please tell me about that.

Our students are required, as part of their study, to take an off-campus internship in their Junior year or Senior year. This gives them a professionalizing opportunity. To date, our students have worked with over 40 organizations. Additionally, community groups looking for visual storytellers who can help them convey their mission work with our students on short documentary, PSA and promotional video work. Our faculty also work with regional organizations – most recently Professor Benjamin Steger and his students worked with the National Park Service and GMU Center for Climate Change Communication to develop a documentary series around climate change impact on our region’s national parks and the educational efforts of the rangers at those sites.

How will Film and Video Studies students participate in the Off the Wall benefit?

Our students will be screening their work – documentary and fiction films. We have selected a range of films that demonstrate their strengths as visual storytellers and diversity of vision. The students will also facilitate a Q&A after each screening so that audiences can ask them about their process. Our FAVS students will also be shooting a film – a Comedy Classic – and guests will be invited to star in the film. It will be recorded and edited and sent to guests who participate. We have cue cards ready for you and Cinematographer and Professor Hans Charles will be running the set with student directors and student crew members.

What would you like the public to come away with after attending the Off the Wall event?

Off the Wall is meant to be a dynamic, fun and immersive evening in the visual arts. On April 18th, I hope that guests come and enjoy themselves through art first and foremost. Be it by playing a game, or exploring works of sculpture, photography, painting and film, I want our community to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary work our students and faculty and doing.

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For more information about Off the Wall or to purchase tickets, please visit here, or contact Susan Graziano at sglomb@gmu.edu, or (703) 993-4188. The Art and Design Building is located on Mason’s Fairfax Campus – 4400 University Drive, in Fairfax, VA.

Tickets are $50 per person and $25 for visual arts alumni from George Mason University’s School of Art and Computer Game Design and Film and Video Studies programs.

Complimentary parking will be available in the Shenandoah Parking Deck. Event on Saturday, April 18, 2015 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Art and Design Building on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.