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virtual aquapolis

a VR exploration of the past, present and future of New York Harbor


Virtual Aquapolis is an interactive VR experience that will invite users to explore the past, present and future of New York Harbor from beneath the surface of the water. Chronicling the harbor and its inhabitants through 500 years of radical change, users will experience how human culture and beliefs have altered New York City’s underwater ecosystems, and how the harbor has shaped the city above.

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  • UUP Individual Development Awards, 2019 

  • Works On Water Governors Island Artist Residency, 2019

  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Digital Projects for the Public Discovery Grant, 2021-2022. 

  • SUNY Old Westbury Faculty Development Grant, 2022


our team


laura grace


Laura Grace Chipley is a Queens based multimedia artist whose recent projects include ‘The Newtown Creek Armada’ – an interactive boat pond created in a New York Superfund site and The Appalachian Mountaintop Patrol, a collaborative, environmental watchdog and multimedia education initiative that works with West Virginia environmental activists to use documentary filmmaking, drones, environmental sensors and surveillance technology to chronicle the effects of Mountaintop Removal coal mining. Her work has been featured in the New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and Wired Magazine and supported by organizations such as Art Matters, the Hudson River Foundation, the Brooklyn Arts Council and A Blade of Grass. Laura is an Assistant Professor at SUNY College at Old Westbury. 




Samara Smith, a documentary media practitioner, creates site-specific, mobile projects in and about public space.  Her work utilizes interactive and mobile strategies–such as, locative games, SMS messaging, soundwalks and augmented reality–to invite the “people formerly known as the audience” to actively explore common urban spaces. Her work has been featured at Hammer Museum, Open Engagement, New York Transit Museum, Conflux Festival, Central Park, Governors Island, Fabric of Freedom, Open Source Gallery, Elsewhere Museum, Queen’s Museum and Hunter College. Smith, an Associate Professor at SUNY College at Old Westbury, holds an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College.



Ashok Basawapatna is a computer science professor at SUNY Old Westbury. His research focuses on engaging and motivating underrepresented populations in computer science using a project first based approach to computational thinking through end-user programming tools including low threshold-high ceiling cyber learning environments. More recently, his research has focused on enabling student creation of virtual environments and closing the cyber learning loop through assessment via retention in online educational programming environments. Previously, Professor Basawapatna worked as a researcher at the University of Colorado, FHNW Switzerland and as a Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

Erin Becker is the Visitor Services & Volunteer Coordinator at Long Island Maritime Museum. As a scholar Becker takes a multi-dimensional approach to understanding maritime economies. Erin's research focused on Long Island Native people—specifically how women in the Shinnecock, Montaukett, and Unkechaug nations—participated in the deep-sea whaling industry, fishing industry, and the military. Her work in museums grapples with investing local peoples in their resources as stakeholders through outreach, education, and public programming. She holds an MA in History from Stony Brook and an MS in Nonprofit Administration. 


Liz Canner is an award-winning filmmaker, digital artist and writer who creates films, cross-platform digital media projects, and installations. She often employs cutting-edge technologies to explore human rights and environmental issues. She is the producer/director of The Lost City of Mer, a cross-platform interactive experience combining a smartphone app with virtual reality. Her work has played at more than 100 film festivals internationally, been theatrically released, broadcast on TV globally, and streamed in 41 countries.  She has received over 60 awards, and grants for her work including an NEA grant, the Dartmouth College Visionary Award and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. 


Dr. Melissa Checker, Hagedorn Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College / Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center,  focuses on environmental justice and urban sustainability in the United States. She is the author of The Sustainability Myth: Environmental Gentrification and the Politics of Justice. Her book, Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town won the 2007 Association for Humanistic Sociology Book Award. She holds a PhD from NYU in Anthropology. 


Dr. Michael Chiarappa, Professor of History, Quinnipiac University, is an active public historian and public humanities scholar committed to collaborations between universities/ colleges and the wider community. Dr. Chiarappa’s research focuses on marine-related environmental and cultural history and ethnography of the United States. Notable for this project is Dr. Chiarappa's research on NYC's Oyster Barges and his historical writing about Delaware Bay. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania. 


Jeremy Dennis is an artist and tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, NY. His work explores Indigenous identity, culture, and assimilation. Using digital photography, he creates images that reference the most common depictions of Indigenous people “to create conversations about uncomfortable themes of postcolonialism.” His project, On This Site, uses photography and an interactive online map to showcase culturally significant Native American sites. Dennis gathers and combines archaeological, anthropological, historical, and oral stories to answer essential cultural defining questions: Where did my ancestors live? Why did they choose these places? What happened to them over time? Do these places still exist? Dennis was awarded a 2016 Dreamstarter Grant from Running Strong for American Indian Youth. 


Robin Espinola is a documentary producer and writer with over twenty-five years of experience creating historical programs for PBS. In 2019, she was awarded the Eric Barnouw Prize from the Organization of Historians for her work producing and co-writing The Chinese Exclusion Act with Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu. She has served as a producer for numerous other NEH-supported projects including: The Pilgrims, Death and the Civil War, and Into the Deep: America, Whaling & The World (all directed by Ric Burns). With Burns, she produced Nueva York, a film for museum exhibition which was created in consultation with El Museo del Barrio and the New-York Historical Association. Espinola served as series archivist for Burns’s epic documentary series NEW YORK: A Documentary Film. Most recently, Espinola has been working as a story producer for "true crime" documentaries including "Murder on Middle Beach" and Season 2 of "The Vow" for HBO. 

Dominika Ksel is an interdisciplinary artist investigating unseen forces that inform our physical and immaterial realities. Through community collaboration, sonic sculptures, VR and video, Ksel uses gameplay and interactivity to map power dynamics, research consciousness, embodied cognition and interspecies collaboration. She produced a VR project about Myth, Media, Climate Change and Antarctic and another for Montefiore Hospital, currently featured on the Center For the Humanities website. She also teaches a New Media class exploring Urban Climate Justice through VR/AR and 360 video at City Tech. 


Dr. David Soll, Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, researches the history of water. ​His book, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of the New York Water Supply​, f​ollows the history of the city’s water supply. Through this history, Soll reveals larger shifts in environmental philosophy, ethics and practice throughout the twentieth century.  He holds a PhD in History from Brandeis University. 


Kate Stevenson is the founder of DotDot an award-winning creative studio focused on generating impact through social and immersive experiences. Exploring the boundaries of technology, art and design, DotDot creates experiences that are memorable, playful, and interactive. DotDot services include: Creative Collaboration (developing creative direction and content that is experience and story driven); R&D Lab (rapid prototyping and experimentation, building custom tools, using technology to solve problems, tell stories and bring people together); and Creative Tech Production (delivering creative technology solutions with an understanding of sustainability). 


Dr. David Stradling, Professor, History, University of Cincinnati, teaches urban and environmental history and is the author of several books, including The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State (Cornell University Press, 2010). He has also written about dumping in the New York Bight. His current research focuses on dredging and underwater infrastructure. He serves as co-editor of the Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy series at Temple University Press. He holds a PhD in History from University of Wisconsin-Madison. 


Dr. John Waldman, Professor of Biology, Queens College, focuses on historical ecology and urban waterways. Before joining Queens College, he worked for 20 years at the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research. Central to the project,Waldman wrote Heartbeats in the Muck: A Dramatic Look at the History, Sea Life. He holds a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from City University of New York/American Museum of Natural History. 

Curtis Zunigha, co-founder and co-director of the Lenape Center, was elected chief of the Delaware Tribe of Indians from 1994–1998. The Delaware are originally known as Lenape in their traditional language and culture. The Lenape Center is a nonprofit based in New York City which promotes the history and culture of the Lenape people (a.k.a. Delaware Indians) through the arts, humanities, and social identity. ( As a tradition-bearer of the Lenape culture he has proficiency in language, history, customs, singing and leading Lenape social dances.

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