VCU: The Long Goodbye (Art)

Man. These are taking some time to write and I know I’m missing all kinds of stuff. I really have to think through how to do this better for the future. I also found out VCU turned off the Google Takeout option so there’s no easy way to archive my mail or get anything else from there. I don’t think that’s a well thought out decision. So I better get these done while I still have access to my reference materials.

Anyway, on with “Things Tom Remembers About Art-Related Projects.”

Screenshot of Bob Paris' website.

Socially Engaged Art

This course with Bob Paris ran for a number of semesters. Initially we’d clone the old site to a URL like sociallyengagedmedia-fall2019 and then clean out the old course so he could start anew. This got to be a bit much as the media library grew so eventually I built a shell course that we’d clone and then we’d just rename the old site in WPMU admin. That was a lot easier and smarter. I should have done it much earlier. Bob played a major role in the look of the site and you never knew what kind of image might greet you on visiting the home page.

I’ve actually written about this course in 2016 and 2017. I still like his attention to detail and the way he had fun with everything. Working with people like that is so much fun. Who else would like the idea of replacing “login” with “genuflect to the machine”?

Bob and I had talked many times and built a number of proof of concept pages for a Bob-style database of socially engaged artists. Time and life got in the way of us ever finishing which is really a shame because it would have been fantastic and odd in all the right ways. One of the goals was to make it non-standard so you can see some attempts to make some more organic and non-standard shapes using WordPress JSON as the data source. They’re definitely odd but these aren’t really what I wanted. They’re more digital sketches to see where some edges in my knowledge lay. Whether I come back to this project someday or not, I’ll use this concept somewhere eventually.

Graphic Design history screenshot

Graphic Design History

This site with Jamie Mahoney was one of the first I recall doing. It was made in 2014 and probably has some accessibility issues now as I’m not liking the contrast ratios. Jamie had the lectures already and wanted a minimalist site that would be accessible to people outside VCU to hold the videos in a sensible way. The opposite of fancy.
Graphic Design Theory Screenshot.
Jamie also continues to teach Graphic Design Theory on RamPages. That site has another patterned-front-end student-submission option where they can submit elements of gestalt theory they see in their lives. We also have feedwordpress pulling in a couple graphic design RSS feeds for auto-posts.

Just before COVID hit, we were working on an internship posting theme. You can see the video of how that’d work below.

Jamie also does printmaking and brought a letterpress to the ALT Fest conference we had for a couple of years. One of the prints is still hanging in our office and I need to go get it. If I recall correctly at one point there was letterpress stuff done with a steam roller.


Jill Ware

Jill was another long-time collaborator. She was teaching one of the Artfulness classes for Molly when the iPad Robot Redemption occurred. We also helped on her portfolio some and had a number of conversations about data visualization and dance. We never got to do the big project we had planned around motion capture which is a shame. With John Henry, Jill did a number of things in VR that are well worth checking out on her site. screenshot.
These are all John Freyer collaborations. When I met him and found out he was the guy who sold all his stuff on eBay way back when I hoped I’d get to work with him more and I did.


Not longer a live domain but RVArts was a course that got students into the community to promote, view, and review cultural events. It used Events Calendar Pro and screenshot.“>I actually wrote about it and the redesign here.

Screenshot of photography is magic website.

Photography is Magic

This is a course I ended up co-teaching with John. It ran multiple times. Maybe 3? It’s a digital photography class for non-majors and thankfully I wrote up something about it because these posts are taking forever to write. I still like the theme and I’ve re-used some of the components in other course themes. The Instagram and Google Photos integration is a bit complex but there are some interesting attempts in there to validate the Google Photos URL.

The course was a lot of fun and the photo walks in downtown Richmond remain a highlight for me.

FotoFika site screenshot.


When COVID hit, we flipped the Photography is Magic theme around a bit and made a site for supporting photography faculty teaching online. They also ran weekly video chats and all kinds of other stuff.

2020 all stars screenshot.

2020 All Stars

If you go to the site, it’ll take a minute to load as it’s huge and I should go back and do a loading icon and optimize this and that . . . but I can’t so life goes on.

This is a typical John Freyer project (although many other people were involved). It’s awesome and it also kept growing and growing. I’ll use the FotoFika description below to save me trying to explain it. is a platform for your students to submit an image to represent their accomplishments. Several institutions and individuals are contributing to the project, including the Center for Creative Photography, SPE, ICP, VCU, ASU etc. Here are mock-up images for the physical set of cards and uncut sheets that will become part of a number of permanent collections, guaranteeing that our students will be remembered for generations to come! Inspired by Mike Mandel’s iconic series of ‘Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards’ all photo/photo-based majors/concentrators (BA/BS/BFA/MFA/PhD) graduating in the spring of 2020 were invited to submit. Mike Mandel has welcomed our emulation and will be among our contributors who will write for our “All Stars” along with Becky Senf, John Freyer, Betsy Schneider and Anne Massoni. All students are included in the complete set of regardless of this special consideration.

So we started out with a Google Sheet of submissions because they got started prior to my involvement. Then the number of submissions kept climbing. The spreadsheets got much more complex with a bunch of people in there adding and changing things. The visuals on the site got more and more complex with cards flipping and then could we make a way to download images of the cards front and back that are the right size for reposting on Instagram? I wrote about some of the technical stuff here. We also then had a visual redesign and the need to mark off people who’d be reviewed in the Google Sheets etc. etc. You can see the multiple views and messy code on GitHub.

I am complaining a bit but I think that working with good people who care bout what you’re making is often like that. I’ll also say it’s worth it. And if you’re making things that haven’t been done before the process is messy and can’t be planned out. You’re finding and solving problems on the fly and that’s exciting and difficult. Every project with John had multiple iterations. We changed all kinds of things live. That’s not optimal and you can’t do it all the time but it is sometimes necessary (and even good) and you have to figure out when it’s worth it. These kinds of different experiences also made it possible for me to think through and build out patterns and tools for people who aren’t like John to use.

Dance 207 screenshot.


Steve Ashby was another arts faculty involved from the early days. I think he took part in the first Online Learning Experience we ran as the ALT Lab. He has quietly churned out work over the years pretty much doing his own thing with occasional questions or requests. He used Discourse when we ran that internally and Jeff built the Audiographics plugin as a result of some conversations we had.

Video switcher screenshot.

Video View Switcher

This was a proof of concept piece to try to talk about teaching very kinesthetic subjects online. It was a result of the COVID move. There’s a bit about it at the bottom of this post. I remade one with ceramic footage that is much better for showing what might be possible. Additionally, talking to Shawn one of the videographers, was the idea that if he knew that might be the end product he would have shot it very differently. I think that’s one of those obvious but can’t-be-over-stated ideas.

Art Theme

This ended up not being used for its initial purpose but I like it anyway.

VCU Qatar: Three OER Art Sites

This is a sad project as Dina Bangdel was leading it and she passed away suddenly. Radha Dalal stepped up to bring it to fruition. It was a big project with faculty from multiple institutions and part of a Royal Qatar grant to increase the amount of teaching resources focused more specifically on the Middle East. CHIPS did the webdesign and I played mainly a semi-project manager, translator (tech to english/english to tech), and technical advisor role.

Comments on this post

  1. Gardner Campbell said on February 24, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Wonderful. Epic.

    Please, if you can, keep going.

    • Tom Woodward said on February 28, 2021 at 10:42 am

      I appreciate that Gardner. Hopefully you’re seeing all the great stuff built on the foundation you created.

      It’s also great to see you blogging again! Viva the blog resistance!

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