The school field trip has become a staple of our education system, with trips to local museums being a popular destination.
But these educational enrichment excursions may be out of reach for some students – both financially and culturally.
Educator and historian Kai Frazier explains that, while the museums may be free, “many of our students can’t afford to chip in to pay for the bus and driver to get to the museums, plus a boxed lunch provided by the school.” The former teacher at Manassas Park (Virginia) Middle School adds that museums can seem unwelcoming to people of color.
Frazier sites a 2015 survey that revealed that most museum attendees are middle-aged and white. Black attendance is at 12 percent, Hispanic attendance is at 14.5 percent, and only four percent of people of color hold positions at museums that are not janitorial or security related. Many museums play a part in these paltry statistics by not actively recruiting museum staff of color and being lax in cultivating possible attendees among the increasingly diverse communities right outside its doors.
Frazier decided to do something about this. She quit teaching and created Curated x Kai, an award-winning virtual reality (VR) company that creates 360-degree videos of museum exhibits and other cultural experiences. These videos are turned into inclusive VR field trips for students in underrepresented communities to view in the classroom with VR headsets.
How did she start her business? “By my bootstraps,” says Frazier, who has a Bachelor’s degree in history and a Master’s degree in education. “I sold my house and car to get through that first year. I also accepted donations and applied for grants.”
Before creating Curated x Kai, she worked with several museums, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, specializing in digital strategy and content creation.
For her first project, Frazier filmed the Martin Luther King memorial, and included King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in King’s own voice. She also enlisted the help of former students – one Vietnamese – to recite King’s speech in English and another student – of Honduran descent – to recite the speech in Spanish for English as a Second Language learners.
She tested a prototype at her former school. The video was a hit. “They were excited to use the technology,” says Frazier. “These are kids who grew up with cell phones.” And an added benefit, “Virtual reality tricks kids into learning,” she says, and she hopes the experience piques students’ interest in attending museums in person and considering museum careers.
Frazier also did a VR field trip to the official portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
What’s next for Frazier and her company? Well, she has since moved out west to the Oakland, CA area where she says there is more understanding for she does and in turn more possible connections to grow her business.
Frazier, who admits she is not a natural techie, has hired a Chief Technology Officer to help her develop an app. And she is now working with a charter school in Oakland where “the students love the VR experience of D.C. museums. Most of them have never been to the East Coast,” she says.
Frazier, too, misses the D.C. museums, but is finding that West Coast cultural institutions tend to be more involved in the community. For example, the Oakland Museum hosts popular Friday night events from 5-10 p.m. that feature art, games, music and demonstrations from different cultures, and food trucks. Says Frazier, “The East Coast could learn a thing or two!”
Learn more about Curated x Kai here.