Facebook is using AR to bring a massive mural to life

The 2,200 square foot piece is being created by local artists at SXSW 2019.

With all the controversy surrounding Facebook right now, it's easy to forget that the company actually does plenty of good for people across the world. At SXSW 2019, Facebook's Art House hopes to show that with a 2,200 square foot mural, which will be gifted to the community in Austin, Texas.

To make this happen, Facebook teamed up with non-profit organizations HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere), Out Youth, Yes Mentoring and Todos Juntos to commission 15 local artists and groups to create a large-scale piece that will live in downtown Austin for the next six months. They will be joined by members of Facebook Artists in Residence (AIR), a program Facebook founded to provide resources to artists and help them show off their work at the company's campuses.

The mural is still a work in progress, but by the time it's done in a couple of days, people who come across it will have a chance to bring it to life using augmented reality. By scanning a QR code that's part of the mural with the camera inside the Facebook app, you can experience various AR effects that the artists want you to see. And since the mural consists of multiple art pieces turned into one, the augmented reality effects will be different based on the area you're scanning. Facebook worked on a similar project two years ago, which it called The World's First Augmented Reality Art, but that was on a much smaller scale than this 2,200 square-foot mural.

Down the road, the company plans to expand its "AR/T" program to other places in the US and abroad, as it looks to work with more local artists and developers on ways to put a technology twist on their art. "We feel really strongly about the value of the analog, like the materials," Jessica Shaefer, head of public programming and partnerships at Facebook's Art Department, told Engadget. She said these type of projects are about finding ways to integrate "the spirit and value of the handmade" through the Facebook Camera and AR, a technology the company sees as a big part of its future.

Beyond that, Shaefer said, Facebook wants to keep finding ways to connect local artists with their communities, particularly those who are part of programs like its Artists in Residence program. "This is a manifestation of what Facebook does, bringing people together in real life," she said. "Facebook got us here, and the ultimate goal is convening."

Facebook desperately needs positive PR to improve its damaged reputation. Gifting the Austin community a mural won't make people forget about its data privacy problems, but it's a start.