Inside Texas Tech: ArtTrek

Jun 20, 2018

There was already a pocket-size book to help people get to know the public art around various campuses of the Texas Tech University System. But now, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the CH Foundation, there’s a more accessible tool: an app, ArtTrek, for both iOS and Android mobile devices that guides people from one art piece to the next.

“Once you get it going we can manage all the content on an online platform and it is actually pretty easy to use, which has been great. We do a book that has all the pieces but you publish it maybe once a year, if that.”

That’s Emily Wilkinson, the director of the system’s public art program -- which has been named one of the top 10 university collections in the U.S. She believes the app is the first of its kind for a university collection. The books are great but are very hard to get, while the app can be downloaded to most phones in minutes and be updated as more pieces are added.

“An app is a great way, it’s just an accessible tool anytime you’re ready. If you’re on campus and you want to download it, you just open it right then and you can get started. And the convenience just being able to really start exploring on your own is helpful when you’re collection is completely accessible all the time,” she explains.

The public art program was established by the Board of Regents in 1998 to enrich campus environments and extend the educational mission at all four system universities -- Texas Tech, Angelo State, and the health sciences centers in Lubbock and El Paso.

Inside Texas Tech: Public Art

Each art piece is funded using 1 percent of the estimated total cost of new major capital projects or renovations. In the 20 years since the program began, more than 100 items created by leading artists have been added to the system’s multiple campuses.

The app provides tour lists that allow users to explore the collection by different themes as the user can “favorite” pieces and create their own lists for tours. It also includes a game that provides clues that hint at the next piece in the user’s journey. The app keeps score and allow competition with others users.

“A lot of what we modeled it after was the Pokemon Go,” Wilkinson says. “I didn’t really ever play it, but seeing people walking around campus looking at things they might normally see, was really our inspiration for doing this. So we have the map that will lead people to pieces. We also have a game incorporated to help direct them to other pieces. So we really want this to be a tool for students to look around and discover new things about campus or maybe learn about things that they pass everyday and maybe don’t know much about.”

The app includes about 60 video interviews with artists who created some of the public art pieces.

“Once we decided we wanted to do these videos, we started getting them from the artists who were actively creating a piece but we’ve had lots of pieces put in before. So we did have students who contact the artists and that was actually a grant prior to creating the app was paying students to work as student assistants to contact artists that were already in the collection and talk them into doing a video,” she says.

Wilkinson says the app helps parents and their prospective Texas Tech students learn about the public art program.

“We want to give parents a good look at Texas Tech and to learn about the community. I think it speaks a lot about Texas Tech that we take so much care in not just the academics but also the spaces in between—the green space, the art. It really is the whole package.”

The new building going up at the health sciences center in Lubbock will soon get an indoor digital piece that will be 11 feet tall and 8 feet wide and show a beating heart.

“It will up the heart rate with more people and they’ll lower as people leave throughout the day,” Wilkinson says. “It’s probably the most technologically advanced pieces that we’ve had, but that’s the way a lot of public art is moving is to utilize technology.”