Helping Save Public Art in Venice

Kyle Miller and Kristen Billiar

Venice is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Steeped in history and a mecca for tourists and scholars alike, the city is festooned with spectacular art and architecture. Much of it is outdoors, exposed to the withering effects of the environment.

Kyle Miller '09, an aerospace engineering major and a music minor, was a member of an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) team that completed a project at the WPI Venice Project Center in 2007 to preserve and protect Venice's art treasures. The project was advised by Kristen Billiar, associate professor of biomedical engineering, who spent a term in Venice as an onsite faculty advisor.

Saving Threatened Treasures

Kyle's team added to an extensive catalog of 4,400 objects that has been compiled by WPI project teams over the past two decades. They combed the Venetian lagoon islands of Burano, Mazzorbo, Murano, and Torcello and recorded the location and condition of each piece of outdoor art there, bringing the total number of objects in the WPI-generated database to nearly 4,400.

They also analyzed the condition of each of those objects and identified the 50 most in need of immediate restoration. But they didn't stop there. Kyle and his team also laid the groundwork for a nonprofit organization, called PreserVenice, that will work to save and protect this vast, threatened collection of art treasures.

Working Outside the Comfort Zone 

An IQP is an opportunity for students and their advisors to become immersed in issues and fields that are outside of their comfort zones. Art preservation was not something Kyle and his team, which also included two biology majors, an electrical and computer engineering major, and mechanical engineering major, had encountered in their studies.

It was also well removed from the day-to-day experience of Professor Billiar, whose own research focuses on the mechanical properties of biological tissue. By stretching and working together, they made a contribution that Venice's residents and visitors will benefit from for generations to come

The Interactive Qualifying Project

The IQP has been called the keystone of WPI's innovative approach to undergraduate education. Learn more about this and other elements of the WPI Difference.

Learn More about This Story

  • WPI's Venice Project Center was founded in 1988. Since then, more than 125 projects have been completed addressing a host of challenges, from maintaining the city’s famous canals, analyzing its boat traffic, and cataloging its public art. Read more at the center's 20th anniversary website.
  • The Venice Project Center is one of 25 residential centers on five continents that form the heart of WPI's Global Projects Program. Established in 1974, the university's pioneering off-campus project program has made WPI the undisputed leader in global project-based education.
  • Read more about Kyle's project on his website, where you will also see links to his extensive catalog of photos of Venice and his travels through Prague and Budapest as part of WPI's jazz programs.
  • Kyle and his team created a website for PreserVenice, the nonprofit organization they started to preserve Venice's vast collection of public art. The site will also include 20 years of data on the art collected by WPI students. Kyle is also administrator for the Venepedia, a repository for the results of projects completed in Venice by more than 400 WPI students.
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