Walking into the Center for Visual Arts Building at Boise State, turn to the left and you will see a big, open space shielded by glass doors, pushed open to invite curious onlookers inside. Large panels line the walls, and one by one they light up, showing images of Monet’s watercolor paintings, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese vases from dynasties past. Viewers can touch the walls, zoom in on the art and choose from hundreds of art collections to explore.
This is the Keith and Catherine Stein Luminary — Boise State’s touch screen immersive art gallery. The Luminary, encompassing over 45 million pixels of high-definition images, is the only exhibit of its kind at the university level.
The opportunity to interact with and learn from the collections at the Luminary is an invaluable asset to the Boise State community.
The Luminary provides the option for professors to create their own collections for classes, for scientists to study microscope slides on a large scale and for students to explore thousands of pieces of artwork that they otherwise might not have the chance to see.
Lisa Hunt, director of the Luminary, shared the vision for the name behind the gallery, saying, “We wanted to show that we can shine light on all kinds of research areas.”
Opening the Stein Luminary has been a years-long process due to pandemic setbacks and the highly advanced technology used to display the art.
According to student docent Madison Miller, images of art are projected onto the touchscreen walls using supercomputers, designed by the same company who makes computers for Disney, Activision, the WWE, CBS, NBC and Fox.
The images come from the galleries of three different museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
These museums and many others released thousands of high-definition images of their artwork for public use, allowing galleries like the Stein Luminary to display the images for viewing.
Hunt explained that there are hundreds of collections for students to look through, and the ideas behind the selections are mostly student-led.
“When the building first opened, the Luminary was just a black box … and so we put up a vinyl sign that said, ‘If you could create an exhibition about anything, what would it be about?’” Hunt said. “We had post-its and markers out, and we got 1000 responses. Our number one answer was cats. So we responded by mining across all the museums and pulled images of cats, sculptures of cats … and put them in what we call a spotlight — a mini exhibition.”
The Stein Luminary aims to put art on display that matches the interests of its viewers.
Hunt shared there were many artistic themes intimately related to the pandemic. There is a spotlight highlighting feasts and meals, because during COVID many people experienced missing meals and events with loved ones.
There is a spotlight for gardens as well because people spent more time at home and in their own backyards during the pandemic. There’s even a spotlight for masks, and how they have been worn throughout time.
The Luminary is making some upcoming changes, including giving students the opportunity to use the Luminary for class projects and create original art to be displayed digitally at the luminary.
Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts students are using the Luminary to present their skills through full installations at the annual BFA/MFA exhibition. Computer science and Games, Interactive Media, and Mobile Technology capstone students also have the opportunity to create unique technology for the Luminary, including “touch enabler” and “audio visualizer” features.
The Luminary opened its doors to group and class reservations in fall 2021, and a year later, they are now offering viewing hours for the public Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m.
The Stein Luminary is looking forward to fostering as much student interaction as they can in the upcoming years and making arts and culture more accessible to Boise State students and the public.