Environmental First-Aid Kits: Digital Storytelling in Egypt via Emerging Tech

Alexandria — Egypt. Photo by David Evers [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

As I prepare to embark on my journey to Egypt to begin the American Arts Incubator program in collaboration with ZERO1 and Alexandria Creativity Center, a year's worth of preparation is finally coming to fruition. I have been researching the Nile delta and its intricate system of canals and cisterns as well as the growing ecological and social challenges facing this ancient coastal city. From sea level rise to flash floods to water polluted by garbage waste and algal blooms, Alexandria finds itself balanced on the precipice of a global ecosystem in flux.

Photo by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I am drawn to this unique opportunity in search of new collaboration. The community of Alexandria is thousands of miles from my home, yet it faces the same need for innovative approaches to environmental sustainability. By bringing together individuals from a variety of disciplines, backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, we will share our perspectives, histories and vocabularies. The goal is to build trust, fostering cross pollination and friendship across cultural boundaries.

My past experiences leading community events across the boundaries of art, science, academia and local government as well as my work building interdisciplinary teams within the university have prepared me for this new challenge abroad.

Cranes and Construction along the shore in Alexandria, Egypt. Photo by Freesally [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Through deep listening, storytelling and sharing of both historic and emerging technologies, we will build bridges across language barriers, stereotypes and cultural differences. Environmental intervention systems will be designed to make the invisible visible. These ecosystem first aid kits will include data-collecting sensors, audio and video field recorders, digital microscopes, 3D scanners, battery powered pico-projectors and more. They will be modular by design and will include local materials and technologies that can evolve to meet the needs of the communities that they serve.

In the end, these tools are starting points for cultural and environmental empowerment, constructed with an open framework in mind — a system that can adapt to meet the challenges of a planet that needs new ideas and ways of being.


Group shot. Photo by Maged Makram.

The past few weeks have been spent in reflection on the American Arts Incubator workshops and project development in collaboration with ZERO1, the El Horreya Creativity Center and U.S. Consulate Alexandria. The final culmination of this unique project brought four interdisciplinary teams together for a final show in which we presented our work in the gallery spaces of the El Horreya Creativity Center.

These teams consisted of a broad spectrum of the Alexandria community, with individuals ranging from ages 19 to 60, and a broad spectrum of professional backgrounds, from students to professors to artists, engineers, and biologists.

These photos shot by lead artist Gene A. Felice II and official project documenter Maged Makram give a unique perspective on the duration of the various workshops and team collaborations that emerged throughout the four-week experience.

"Another Face" at the Exhibition. Photo by Maged Makram.

The lead artist's project. Photo by Gene A. Felice II.

The incubator included a series of creative technology workshops exploring technology such as video projection mapping, microscopy, audio/video recording, and editing. We also explored project development and prototyping processes while sharing each others' experiences and vocabularies.

Team project at the Exhibition. Photo by Maged Makram.

Our theme was water, with its myriad ways of connecting human beings to the environments that support us, while also being deeply affected by our actions. Through a variety of digital storytelling methods, we shared our stories of water and gained new knowledge and perspectives on the global scale of water-based environmental sustainability issues.

An audience engaged. Photo by Maged Makram.

We are eternally grateful to all the hard working project participants, to the staff at the El Horreya
Creativity Center, and to U.S. Consulate Alexandria and ZERO1 for making this cultural exchange program possible.


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