In real life and in virtual reality, The Better World Museum works to live up to its name

Visit the museum and you too can experience VR technology as a way to make the world a better place

<p>Paige Dansinger, the founding director of Better World Museum in downtown Minneapolis, draws on " class="catboxphoto" />

Tony Saunders

Paige Dansinger, the founding director of Better World Museum in downtown Minneapolis, draws on "Tilt Brush," a program on the Oculus Rift in the virtual reality studio on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The Better World Museum is open to the public, where viewers can use the virtual reality studio, a collaborative space that Dansinger says people from all over the world have used. 

Liv Martin

Surely, if you live in the Twin Cities, you’re familiar with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center and the Weisman Art Museum.

But have you heard of the Better World Museum? Located in the City Center building, this gallery space is the brainchild of artist Paige Dansinger.

Dansinger has long been a member of the Twin Cities arts community. Forever harboring a love for new technology, she’s now dedicated herself to creating virtual reality art. Dansinger can often be found in the museum drawing in VR with an Oculus headset that comes with headphones and controls for each hand.

Though it had been in the works since 2014, the Better World Museum officially launched this spring.

“It really started through me working in museums and having a love for technology and wanting to use it as a rainbow bridge to make a better community,” Dansinger said.

Connecting with the community

Community outreach is one of the Better World Museum’s top priorities. The museum hosts events regularly, from VR yoga and participatory murals to karaoke and live DJs.

The museum’s latest community-focused endeavor is called “Garden One.” Dansinger describes it as an indoor edible garden, hoping it will be a resource that sparks community building and educates people about edible plants.

“The idea is that anyone in the community may participate in growing, eating, harvesting and sharing,”  Dansinger said.

Of course, there is also a VR component. The spherical garden, crafted from wood, has been recreated in a VR parallel universe using Dansinger’s favorite VR-compatible app “Tilt Brush.”

Spotlighting emerging artists

Besides the technological aspect, championing young artists has been part of the museum’s mission since the beginning.

This is one reason Dansinger was so excited to have Frankie Bingxin Yu’s art featured in the museum. Yu, 24, graduated from the University of Minnesota this past summer with degrees in art, psychology and design.

The artist’s contribution to the Better World Museum is four unique chairs. You’d know them if you’ve seen any pictures of the gallery — they’re a main photo op.

Yu discovered her love for furniture design through a course at the University. The chairs’ streamlined, circular designs are a focal point from the moment you enter the museum.

Inspiration for the chairs came from a discussion Yu had with her partner about how we define comfort. That brought her to the concept of the rocking chair. Her pieces are reminiscent of the one her partner described feeling comforted by at her grandma’s house as a child, but reimagined.

“When you are doing the repetitive, rocking motion, it brings you back to the memory of your parents or grandparents giving you comfort,” Yu said.

A museum with a mission

Other installations in the museum include a giant plastic cocoon created by Minnesota-based artist Asia Ward, “Boxels,” a three-foot-tall 3D object made from cardboard boxes by artist Andrew Krahn and participatory murals of local lakes Bde Maka Ska and Harriet.

“Whatever it is, we just want it to be about making a better world. We only show art about diversity, inclusion, empathy, climate justice and wellness,” Dansinger said.

Their work also spans beyond the walls of the Better World Museum. Dansinger often collaborates with Hattie Ball, the museum’s director of VR.

Ball is a self-taught VR artist who first dabbled with the gaming software Unity 3D. As the overseer of all things VR at the Better World Museum, it’s her job to create VR-compatible apps, organize museum events related to virtual technology and teach people how to use VR.

And teaching newcomers how to navigate the technology might just be the most rewarding part of her job.

“When [people] first experience it, it’s that ‘wow’ reaction. Their faces come alive,” Ball said.

The museum’s first big VR project was a partnership with the Domestic Abuse Project. Dansinger and Ball designed a drawing software for iPads and had a group of abuse victims collaborate to create an “empathy experience” – a safe space in VR that was filled with purple flowers. The museum then held an exhibit showcasing the work.

“We like to use this space not to collect art but to create relationships and trust … to create a safe space in the community,” Dansinger said. Like the many other museums anchored here, her hope is that the Better World Museum will become an invaluable piece of the Minneapolis community.

What: The Better World Museum

Where: 40 S. 7th St. #210, Minneapolis

When: Tuesday through Friday, 11a.m. to 6 p.m.

Price: Free