Layers of illustrations, stop-motion animation, Polaroids and transparent images coated a 60-foot, panoramic, Hieronymus Bosch-inspired backdrop – using six projectors – inside a makeshift dome near the entrance of Queen’s Park subway station in Toronto, Canada.

Last Oct. 13, 577 eager guests waited in a line from sunset until sunrise for an opportunity to partake in this thing that seemed like it came straight from a Philip K. Dick short story: a chance to play games – tarot card slot machines, crystal races and a slew of other surreal scenarios – using nothing but their brain noise (activity). Baycrest Health Sciences and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine’s My Virtual Dream (powered by The Virtual Brain), is more like a futuristic acid test than an immersive art installation.

The crew behind this progressive melding of art and science are the kind of people – scientists, artists and technologists – that Carmel Valley’s Richard Tavener wants to bring to Carmel as part of a concept he’s dubbed Wonderspace, best described as a multi-disciplinary discussion about the future. In fact, he brought them to town Jan. 9-10 for a two-day gathering to go over it.

The roster included Virtual Brain program manager Tanya Brown, Carmel Community and Cultural Commission’s Kristy Downing, Carmel Bach Festival executive director Debbie Chinn and National Academy of Engineering spokesman Randy Atkins.

MY VIRTUAL DREAM IS MORE LIKE A FUTURISTIC ACID TEST THAN AN IMMERSIVE ART INSTALLATION.

Several players involved with The Virtual Brain and My Virtual Dream presented on the fusion of art and science.University of Toronto psychology Prof. Randy McIntosh, for example, views virtual tools as helpful in gaining a better understanding of epilepsy, strokes and other brain disorders, and eventually leading to more effective targeted cognitive rehabilitation treatments.

Now Tavener just needs the money – and the credibility – to make the actual installation happen. Quite a bit, in fact: $60,000 from the city to fund the project – as a way, a council report says, of helping bring mid-week visitors to Carmel – but just can’t seem to pull the trigger. Sort of. (More on that later.)

Tavener is co-founder of The Imagine It! Project, an organization that champions the power of imagination in education and the workplace through media, curriculum and eBooks with titles like Imagine It! Rediscovering Your Creative Inner-Child. He’s also an enthusiastic percussionist who performs with Carmel Valley’s Spice Trade. Tavener says he’s been working on the Wonderspace idea for nine years.

In spring of 2014, My Virtual Dream plans to set up its dome installation in Berlin, Germany. And Tavener hopes Wonderspace will be able to bring the project, and all its awe, to Carmel.

But first, he has to convince the Carmel City Council that his vision – he has pledged to “rediscover the lost art of getting together” – is worth the city’s time and money.

Just a few days before Wonderspace held its first meetings in Carmel, Councilman Ken Talmage and other council members posed questions to Tavener at the Jan. 7 council meeting: “What are the benefits to the city?”

“We have benchmarks and criteria for about everything around here,” Talmage said. “I haven’t seen any for this.”

Here’s where the “sort of” comes in: City Administrator Jason Stilwell signed a $25,000 contract with Tavener back in August 2013; it’s the maximum allowed without the council’s approval. Tavener is seeking the additional $60k to help Wonderspace build programs and host conferences. (The city also cut Tavener a check for $20,820 in December for holding two events in January.)

Before agreeing to hand over any more money, the council and community were interested in how Tavener spent the initial $25,000. He said the payment “went to good use”; it funded building the Wonderspace Carmel website and bringing “important” people to town.

The council decided to grant a 30-day continuance on Tavener’s $60,000 request on Jan. 2 and planned to reopen the discussion on Feb. 4. That was again continued to March 4.

Tavener has no intention of giving up, even though the $60,000 discussion has been put off twice already. He’s working on an early June gathering in Carmel with MindDRIVE, a Kansas City-based organization with a mission to “inspire at-risk students to want to learn, expand their vision of their future, and to have a positive influence on urban workforce development.”

Tavener says the event will feature topics that involve “energy, environment, education, recycling and electric cars, all rolled into one.”

Learn more about WONDERSPACE CARMEL at www.wonderspacecarmel.org; more on My Virtual Dream at www.myvirtualdream.ca; MindDRIVE at www.minddrive.org

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(1) comment

L. A. Paterson

WonderspaceCarmel, promoting “a series of conference gatherings titled “future of…” focused on global challenges and opportunities” should be funded by private donations, not taxpayer monies, just like Carmel Authors & Ideas Festival was not funded by taxpayer monies when it was held at Carmel’s Sunset Center. Moreover, Adam Joseph, writes “City Administrator Jason Stilwell signed a $25,000 contract with Tavener back in August 2013; it’s the maximum allowed without the council’s approval. Tavener is seeking the additional $60k to help Wonderspace build programs and host conferences. (The city also cut Tavener a check for $20,820 in December for holding two events in January.)” Given the novel nature of WonderspaceCarmel, the city administrator should have brought this concept to the Carmel City Council and public prior to writing checks totaling $24,900 ($100 short of $25,000 required for council approval) and writing an additional check which included the amount $20,820.00. The city administrator’s actions raise questions about any possible conflicts of interest and/or a continuing pattern of City Administrator Jason Stilwell hiding information from the public which should have been brought to the public’s attention months and months ago.

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