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Indy’s oldest black church gets ‘digital restoration’

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind-- A team of professors and students from IUPUI’s School of Informatics and Computing is giving a Indianapolis historic icon a much needed restoration.

A $57,000 grant from IU is helping the team digitally preserve the Bethel AME Church, Indianapolis’ oldest African-American church.

“The idea is to preserve everything that’s been captured over the last 180 years in a virtual environment so anybody in the public can experience that as if they were in the church still,” Professor Zeb Wood said.

The project, called "Virtual Bethel: Underrepresented History and Primary Source Education through Virtual Reality" uses laser scans to map every inch of the 148 year old church. The scans are then converted into a 3D virtual reality model. Important documents, choir recording, and other objects will also be preserved.

“That’s why this is important. We can preserve everything from memories, oral histories, videos and photographs inside the space. It’s not perfect, but it allows our students and people like our students to recreate the space as it was in reality,” Wood said.

When complete the VR experience will be accessible to the public, the team says it’s their hope for that it’s used as an educational tool throughout the city.

“So we’re really hoping it takes off into schools and educates people about Bethel’s history,” Wood said.

The team says the newly awarded grant will allow them to continue their work throughout the next year.

For more information on the Bethel project, click here.