Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Meet Helen De Michiel
Helen De Michiel is a documentary filmmaker and producer, public policy media arts advocate and analysis, and explorer of the possibilites of new media for engagement with communities. She's had a long and vibrant career in all of these fields, with award-winning feature films and documentaries. Most recently (1996-2010), she served as codirector of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC). Her new multimedia documentary engagement project, Lunch Love Community, launched last week. Lunch Love Community explores healthy food for schools, and how documentary practice can be rewired away from preaching to communities, towards convening community involvement as a key part of the documentary project. More on Helen in my previous blog HERE.
The Interview Continues
Patricia: What are new developments in the media landscape that completely change our concepts, operations, and practices of public media?
Helen: Now, we are in a period when every citizen has a stake in defining the role of a public media sphere. Corporate media pounds us with diversionary fluff. Those narratives invade everyone’s consciousness and infect our public forms of discourse and reflection.
Public media is no longer only NPR or PBS. How can digital natives—that generation that has grown up permeated by all forms of emerging media and platforms-- build up a new concept of public media that designs meaningful spaces among all the new nodes of entry?
This movement of public media practices within new platforms is happening at the cellular level of our emerging new communications system. Hybrid forms of journalism, filmmaking, and writing are being tested. With new interfaces and applications, broadband media makers are making mistakes and test piloting their way into the future.
In fact, social media may be the most salient public media form of this current period. It is driven by engaged individuals speaking and sharing virally. The challenge, however, resides in how to create the “story” of this new public media sphere. How do we connect the nodes and protect them from being crushed or marginalized?
For example, filmmakers can now gather and organize groups of interested fans and users online before a work is completed. They can invite their feedback, enter into meaningful dialogues, and make an interactive exchange of ideas and questions part of the work’s development. This kind of open inquiry approach will completely transform our legacy ideas of public media.
Patricia: What are some projects emerging in this new public media landscape that you think open up new ways of thinking about our digital futures?
Helen: I am deeply intrigued by the multiple public media/public art projects being organized by Jon Ippolito and Joline Blais < http://www.three.org/>, who teach new media practice at the University of Maine. They work with social networks, kinship systems, indigenous peoples, and environmental issues. I don’t always understand exactly what they are doing, but when I do, I am jolted by the new connections they are making. And that’s a good thing.
Perhaps readers of this blog can share projects they know about that open up new ways of thinking about our digital futures? I welcome more interaction on this topic. Let’s discuss!
Patricia: What is unresolved in this new landscape? What are some debates we need to consider and engage in?
Helen: The idea of resolution may be a pipe dream in this landscape with new nodes for public media futures. Perhaps the game will just go on and on, changing abuptly just when resolution seems at hand.
Here are some of the questions I continue to ruminate over:
1. How can artists get interested in and more actively engaged in the huge telecommunications and cultural policy debates of our time?
2. How can we encourage gamers to change the terms of what is public media and learn new ways to play our way into common spaces for dialogue?
3. How can I connect 20th century cinema and art practice to the new media forms I see emerging?
4. How is the burgeoning “maker’s culture” changing both technology and arts communities?
5. Where will the new public media reside in the coming decades? Will it still be defined primarily by television or radio – or the next medium after Facebook and Twitter?
6. How can we bring into focus the urgent need for digital literacy? How can we recognize digital media not only as a conduit for ‘content,’ but as a creative medium itself in the process of being defined?
And finally, for me, one of the most important pieces missing in these larger debates is seeing the variety of voices of creators articulating and writing about their own experiences in the digital environment, as artists and participants.What is working? What is not working? What are some of the values or ethics we need to articulate as creators in this space? What new connections are you making in your work?
There is no excuse anymore for creators and producers to not become engaged in the rebuilding of a public media space. As designer Bruce Mau wrote in “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth" :
"Organization=Liberty: Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context.”
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmerman, professor of cinema, photography and media arts at Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Meet Helen DeMichiel
Helen De Michiel has just left her position as codirector of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), a position she has held since 1996, to pursue her innovative work in digital media, public media, arts public policy and administration, and engagement. She's also developing a groundbreaking documentary social media project called Lunch Love Community (more on that in a future posting). Helen's experience, knowledge and insights about the massive changes in the public media landscape and its new nodes spurred me to want to interview her to learn more about the challenges of this new topography. I'll post in three parts: a two part interview, and then an analysis of the significance of the Lunch Love Community documentary project. Stay tuned and join the conversation!
Helen De Michiel is a director,writer and producer whose work includes film, television and video installations. She is principal of Thirty Leaves, a media production company. Her 1995 feature film Tarantella, starring Mira Sorvino, has been shown, among others at the Seattle Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival, and won the Audience Award at the 1996 Torino International Woman’s Film Festival. After the theatrical release it was broadcast on public TV nationwide in 1997-98 through The Independent Television Service, and is currently available in home video and DVD. Her documentary, Turn Here Sweet Corn(1990) was seen nationally on the PBS series POV, and is in distribution to environmental organizations as an educational and organizing tool. It has received awards from Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Earthpeace International Film Festival and the American Film & Video Festival. An earlier work, Consider Anything, Only Don’t Cry (1988) received the “Best New Vision” Golden Gate Award at the 1989 San Francisco International Film Festival. Her documentary The Gender Chip Project, is one of the most innovative works exploring college age women and science careers, with enormous outreach and usage within STEM communities.
Her films are included in the media art collection/archive of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Her video installation The Listening Project (1994), is part of Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center Permanent Collection and won the 1995 “Muse” Award in New Media & Technology from the American Museum Association. She has been the recipient of several NEA Awards and a Rockefeller Foundation Intercultural Film/Video Fellowship, among others. She has served as the National Director for NAMAC (The National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture), the national arts service organization for the media arts field, form 1996-2010. In 2001 she was appointed to the board of The George F. Peabody Award for Electronic Media. She has an MFA in film and visual arts from the University of California, San Diego. She lives in Berkeley, California.
The Interview on New Nodes for Digital Futures
Patricia: How does the US public media landscape look different now than 20 years ago?
Helen: Let’s time travel a bit, since we both can still remember 1990. In 1990, indie filmmaking was new, fresh, and in ascendancy.
The Independent Television Service (ITVS) had just been funded by Congress. The Learning Channel was commissioning and running a 13-part series called The Independents, a curated thematic series showcasing independent films on cable. HBO was young, hungry, and willing to try out new projects. The MacArthur Foundation was pioneering the funding of media arts and public media organizations. Community media and public access were robustly funded by local franchise fees, and teaching citizens how to make and broadcast locally-based media.
In 1990, it really looked like emerging filmmakers could make work and bypass the clutches of the industry. It took twenty years. Now this idea of work outside the industrial system is more possible than ever thanks to the internet and broadband capabilities.
What I find so interesting is how this wave of cultural activity in public media in the 1980s and 90s set the stage for the digital revolution we are now immersed in. What artists and filmmakers were dreaming of and talking about then -- to be able to engage directly with audiences as users and participants in the media making enterprise – is now a reality.
Patricia: What significant changes have you observed in the public media landscape?
Helen: We are coming to terms with the fact that the “nodes of entry” to a media experience, or cultural experience, are wildly proliferating (that is, as long as we fight for net neutrality and protect a free internet).
We can listen to radio, or internet radio, or Pandora, etc. We can watch TV or record it for later. We can watch everything online, or download it. We can go to movie theaters and see movies…or simulcast operas. We can get news from anywhere online for free. We can comment, add images, videos, and sounds of our own to the collective mix.
All of this content can be delivered through devices we put in our pockets and can share globally in seconds. This is another way to think of “public media”—the nodes of entry are open to anyone: the whole idea of powerful gatekeepers is collapsing.
Since we are now curators of our own media experiences, it can be daunting and exhausting to stay on top of these choices and options. Here is a powerful emerging paradox: the “public” nature of a communal media literacy is weakening.
Do I watch an appointment television show, stream it on Hulu, get it VOD, or wait for aYouTube version? How do I watch and understand the work out there? As entertainment or education? When there is so much blurring and overlap, how do we discern between propaganda and advocacy?
As a media maker, I also have hard questions to think through. Do I toil for five years to make a long form documentary that public television may broadcast, but may not offer sufficient compensation or licensing fees. Or, do I test other ways to connect to different audience, who, although much, much smaller, are perhaps much more devoted to the concepts and issues in the work and who will support that work through small contributions?
We are also coming to terms with the hard reality that financial sustainability will not come from selling a media product. The new models emerging suggest that economic sustainability for producers will be peripheral to the media object itself.
New business models for rethinking independent and public media production are still to be shaped, ones that offer a real and authentic experience. I do believe that in this over-stimulated and noisy media environment, our future will focus on building a public media space that perseveres to create real world dialogue and inquiry.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmermann, professor of cinema studies, Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Continuing from my last posting, here are the final four of the auspicious take-aways from my Nanyang Technological University colleagues, in no particular order of importance. These are practices and ways of doing intellectual life that unhinged my global north/US centric bias/East coast interventionist assumptions (even though, like most intellectuals, I thought I didn’t have them)
5. Lunch. A big part of my work life at NTU featured lunches and coffees with a myriad of colleagues, collaborators, and contacts.
One of my long-term colleagues in Information Science in the School of Communication, Christopher Khoo, an internationally recognized researcher of knowledge systems and an organizer of lunch expeditions, once told me that interdisciplinary research happens at round tables in restaurants. A wise observation.
Food is a central feature of Singaporean cultural identity. Some might call it an obsession. I dug in.
Usually spontaneous, the narrative of lunch featured the build up of what kind of food to eat—Hokkien, Teochow, Hakka, South Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Peranakan, dim sum, western—and then where to eat--- hawker stalls, on campus hawker stalls, on campus restaurants, the faculty club, off campus restaurants.
The next part of narrative build-up entailed who would come—I rarely had a lunch with only one other person. Usually, we’d lunch in a group. The group usually included senior and junior faculty, although I don’t think this was deliberate as much as it is just ingrained in NTUs culture of inclusiveness and mentoring.
Lunch was leisurely, usually long (never less than 90 minutes), never hurried, crowded with questions about cultural differences, research, comparisons of academic life in different countries. I probably learned the most about Asia at these lunches. Analysis of the food we were eating was expected, which I slowly came to realize was a subtle way to discuss the histories, economies, cultures , media systems of Southeast Asia in a way that gently disguised what an American film and new media theorist/historian like me didn’t know.
In some foodie circles, Singapore holds the distinctive title of "Paris of the East" for its staggering, overwhelmingly complex cuisines.
But my Singaporean colleagues made jokes that a more post-colonialist way of considering this accolades was that Paris was trying, desperately, to be Singapore, but had the ultimate disadvantage of being located at a latitude and in a climate where kang kong, kai lan, durian, limes, and chilli could not grow.
Coda: About a month before I repatriated, I received a couple of emails from academic friends in Ithaca who wanted to set up lunch dates. They provided the list of their constraints—no time, needing to organize far in advance, feeling pressed by many obligations, tight calendars (even in summer with no teaching), needing one on one interaction, needing a firm booking weeks in advance for a date. I had a strong and weird reaction, reading these emails in the heat and humidity of SE Asia (I think I was in Thailand at the time)
I resolved to bring a little bit of NTU back into my life in Ithaca, with spontaneity, collegiality, and leisurely interactions at the core.
6. A Collaborative Ethic. The School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University transmits a sense of collegiality and collaboration that is nothing short of energizing for the alliances it creates, the new research ideas it generates, and the interactions it spurs.
Perhaps this collaborative zeitgeist emanates from the group ethic that is part of Asian culture in general. Perhaps it is because NTU is a high-end, prestigious engineering school where team work and problem solving is part of the profession. Perhaps it is the legacy of the heads of the school like Eddie Kuo, Ang Peng Hwa and Ben Detenber.
Perhaps it is because humility is a major value of Buddhist and Asian cultures, with excessive egotism a negative trait where one could lose face.
I am not sure I can explain why collaboration seems so central to SCI. But it served as a powerful antidote to the isolationism, individualism, self-centeredness, negativity, and competitiveness that cuts through American and European academic life.
I didn’t meet one faculty member who worked alone on research, teaching, administrative work.
Of course, faculty had research and writing they did on their own. Most seemed to be working all the time on their projects, with books and print outs piled high on their desks. But it seemed like almost everyone I met did some sort of project with others, or, if not that, they engaged in endless benchmarking and discussion and debate with others other lunch, coffee, drinks. Courses were team taught. Many faculty were mobilized to help mount the International Communication Conference. I deeply admired their team spirit and lack of grousing.
Part of my position as the Shaw Professor of New Media at NTU was to curate a new media exhibition to represent SCI at the International Communication Association (ICA) meeting—and the first step I took was to assemble an interdisciplinary team: Nikki Draper from SCI, Sharon Lin Tay from the School of Art, Design and Media and Wenjie Zhang from the National Museum of Singapore. And then, I mobilized a lot of lunches with the team and with new media artists and labs we were interested in.
It would have been impossible to curate and mount an exhibition of new media works in Southeast Asia alone. New media in the region is exploding , the platforms are multiplying, the context of each country complex, and, significantly, I am an outsider.
Plus, it was a lot more fun to have long lunches thinking through Indonesian social media after Reformasi, Cambodian digital archives tracking Khmer Rouge historiography, the Malaysian New Wave of online shorts, and the CUTE Center’s radical robotics of the sensorial.
7. Unsettling and complicating "independent media." After my time at NTU and in Southeast Asia, I have a new view about independent media—one filled with more questions than answers. My vectors have been rerouted--- completely.
In the countries of what activists often dub the "Global North", the term "independent media" usually refers to media practices outside corporate media combines, dedicated to exposing voices, practices, and ideas the so-called "mainstream" marginalizes.
In Southeast Asia and India, new media practices and infrastructures are exploding, in different ways in different countries, dependent on political changes, economic global flows, complicated histories, and where spaces are available. They don’t follow the pattern of the center of "mainstream" corporate media and the periphery of "independent media." Spaces exist for new media and other forms of media that wind between the two.
For example, Malaysiakini, an online news site that developed in opposition to the Malaysian government, emerged in the context of hard copy press censorship in Malaysia and a loosening of restrictions on the internet to foster growth in the IT sector in light of the multimedia supercorridor there. I attended a conference of "mainstream" journalists from Asia where the editors of Malaysiakini where featured speakers. The site has successfully monetized: it has more readers than many of what westerners would call "mainstream" media (but what is that, exactly, when there are both government regulated media and then international media, like the International Herald Tribune and Al Jazeera?).
A significant take-away from my time in Southeast Asia and India, as well as my curatorial work for NTU, is that we make a strategic and conceptual error if we do not broaden our horizons to understand the emerging formations of new media and cinema in other parts of the world. They might look similar to our "westernized" conceptual models, but we can learn a lot more if we situate their distinctions and differences contextually.
The urgency of rethinking independent media within a more nuanced, complex, global point of view was underscored for me at a session I attended at the ICA conference on "alternative media."
I heard two presentations by white male scholars, one from the US and one from Europe, who were analyzing "independent media" and "alternative media" in Southeast Asia, one a quantitative social scientist, the other a more humanities oriented analyst.
They both marshalled similar language and theoretical models of the counter public sphere, the public sphere, speaking truth to power, making the invisible visible, giving voices, mainstream media, commercial media, censorship, freedom of expression, independence, independent media, alternative media—terms derived from German critical theory and American media scholarship—to analyze blogs, video and some journalistic practices from Southeast Asia.
It troubled me to hear these invocations of terms from 1970s German critical studies and 1980s American independent media and independent journalism applied to Southeast Asian examples, with no attention paid at all to how even these terms, according to many of the artists, activists and academics I encountered, have a distinctly western, global north bias that ignored the differences in media, histories and politics in Southeast Asia.
These talks felt like colonialism camouflaged in critical theory to me. They also felt very ahistorical. They were importing a US/European conceptual model to a region of the world that didn’t share this same history.
I will be posting more about specific examples of emerging media practices in analog and new media from other parts of the world, including Southeast Asia, in future blogs.
I’m not an expert at all, just an interested observer. It’s my way of countering these two scholars. (Full disclosure: I confronted them at the session about their unexamined definitions and models of independent media, emboldened, I think, because Enrico Anditjondro from Engage Media in Indonesia, a group we had curated for Open Space/Singapore/Southeast Asia, was sitting next to me).
8. Harmony. I thought I might end my reflections on NTU with this idea.
I don’t invoke it in any new age, go-to-the spa-to-fight-stress kind of way, but as an meme that traversed through NTU, SCI, and the new media and cinema worlds I encountered across Southeast Asia and India.
I heard and read a lot about "Asian Values."
I am not sure I ever fully—after two different stints teaching and researching in Asia—understood it.
Some analysts argue that Buddhism infuses cultural values in Southeast Asia, stressing a non-confrontational way that emphasizes social harmony. It's a survival strategy: without social harmony, people in poor communities would not thrive. They needed each other.
Other analysts have pointed out that Southeast Asian culture (if one can generalize, given the enormous economic and cultural differences in the region, where some countries like Vietnam and Laos are communist, some like Singapore global capitalist, some like Thailand and Malaysia emerging economies, etc) is not direct, but indirect, finding ways to suggest critique that do not feel assaultive. It is a high context, rather than low context, culture.
Another book interpreted the term as an ideological and postcolonial countermove to the so-called west that saw Asian communications systems as less than open, more prone to state censorship and regulatory controls. "Asian values" signified the differences in interpretation of terms like censorship, freedom of expression, free press, to emphasize distinctions in Asia, and Asia’s need to self-define media and communications practices. It was a subtle way to refuse the imposition of western values of individualism, free expression, etc.
But the definitions I liked (and understood) the best were offered by one of my SCI colleagues, who explained Asian values with two metaphors, Zen koans that are major take-aways for me.
The first was an expression: stroke the neck of the tiger when it attacks you.
The second: If you want to understand Asian values, just look at all the round tables in any dim sum restaurant.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Torquing Documentary Form
Top ten lists of commercial films, high end art exhibitions, and books from the big publishers jam the press and commercial news websites this time of year.
I devour these lists. I end up saving them for my Netflix queue and my travel reading.
That said, I find myself a lot more energized by projects that jack me into thinking about archives, history, concepts, politics, real people, real struggles and documentary practice in new ways. Sites that seduce me to keep coming back to see what’s new. Projects that prod one sentence: gosh, I wish I could think like that.
The projects on my list engage some common strategies: collaborative, interactive, merging the digital and the real, the urgent and the imaginative. These are not auteurist projects—they are convenings.
And they are in alphabetical order, in no particular ranking of importance.
A big huge shout out to the ever-inventive, open space afficionado Dewey Schott at the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, who conjured up this great idea of ten best lists of the year for public media so that the mainstream press can't maintain its monopoly on curation and aggregation.
1.The Hub, by Witness (an NGO based in NYC)
A user-generated, issue-focused, easy-to-search portal for uploading videos from around the world documenting a staggering array of human rights including armed conflict, labor, children’s rights, prisons, sustainable development, discrimination, violence, health, women’s rights, humanitarian issues, justice. A model of ethical, collaborative, social media, where uploading and sharing means taking action and campaigning for real world change for real people, not avatars or products.
2. Iranian Social Protest on Facebook
The Zapatistas wrangled the internet for politics. 15 years later, the Iran protest movement has nabbed social media and grabbed attention for turning recent updates into something more than your favorite youtube video or latte hang out. Despite the US state department’s enthusiasm for toppling regimes by any digital means necessary, Facebook and blogs have rendered the separation between the local and the global inoperative. Check out the link above for news about the men in head scarves movement.
3.Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, Nunuvut, Canada
From Zacharias Kunuk and Ian J. Mauro, an exciting, interactive web project the gathers centuries of Inuit knowledge by elders and hunters on climate change in the Arctic, featuring blogs, multimedia, raw footage, live internet shows and skype. Say farewell to Al Gore and his multimillion dollar power point films.
4.Post Secret, by Frank Warren
This community art project is simple: people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard. But the results are complex: condensations of psychic fissures and social relations. Images and words are posted on the blog daily. Several books have been published from this material and hit the NYT bestseller list. But it’s still a model of engagement worth taking a look at..and, according to its own website, it’s the largest advertising free blog in the world. Send one in. Noone will know it’s you.
5.Public Secret, USA, project conceived by Sharon Daniel in collaboration with Justice Now
A massive collaboration between digital artist Daniel, the Vectors Journal at USC, Justice Now, and incarcerated women. It explores gender, family, and the prison industrial complex with an elegant, spared down design that remaps our preconceptions all the first three. It also cuts through decades of documentary debate about images, victims and ethics with more clarity than most scholarly essays on the subject.
6.RMB City, China, by Cao Fei, aka in SL China Tracy
A project spanning RL (real life) and SL (Second Life) that satirizes overdevelopment and overbuilding in China through avatars and buildings in Second Life, and a web site promoting the RMB city including press releases, city channels, manifestos, maps, city views and a blog. Strapped for cash? You might want to book your next weekend getaway in RMB City…
7.Sarai, Delhi, India
The go-to hub in South Asia for cracking open the liminal zones between the digital and the real with the edgiest new media theory around, practical and concept-changing on the ground projects mapping urbanism, and endless innovations in convening people and ideas with art shows, editable and free CDs, books, audio, free software, publications, translations and dialogue across languages (Hindi and English), and cybermohallas (you gotta love it—exploring the alley ways and corners of communities and cities.)
8.Saving the Sierra, California, USA, project coordinated by Catherine Stifter and jesikah maria ross
A compelling, elegant, clear-sighted regional project chronicling the culture, economy and environment of the Sierra Nevada as it confronts development challenging sustainability. It marshalls public media, radio documentary, citizen storytelling, and story mapping. The multiple and diverse voices in this project as a mighty and awe inspiring as Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and the sequoias, the spectacles and clichés of the Sierras.
9.Soweto Uprising, South Africa, project by Ismail Farouk and Babak Fakhamzadeh
An interactive website creating a living archive and new cartography of the student uprisings on June 16, 1976 with participants and people living in Soweto, with video mapping, blogs, routes that are tagged, Flickr projects for image uploading, comments on the maps of the routes.
10. Transborder Immigrant Tool, A Mexico/US border Disturbance Project by Ricardo Dominguez, Brett Stalbaum, Micha Cardenas, and Jason Najarro
A mind-blowing and controversy-igniting project where cell phones as digital coyotes meet phone apps meet GPS to help immigrants from Mexico cross the border. Before they’ve been built, they’ve generated a lot of blowback all ready. Start googling and find out what all the fuss is about. And then, start thinking apps and maps as a new media form.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
"I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities," exhorted Fox News pundit Glenn Beck, sarcastically acting out the AmeriCorps pledge in his July 24 broadcast. Costumed in lederhosen, white knee socks, and a blue tie, he stood atop a desk in front of a blackboard with an American flag last July during his Fox broadcast. He sung a refrain from "Edelweiss" at the end.
Quoting President Obama that "Americorps will be better financed than the military," Beck has insinuated that Americorps members are Nazis and Obama’s SS.
Beck’s vitriol against the rise of socialism, the inclusion of community activists into the current administration, and the destruction of the free market empire has picked up steam since President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on April 21 The Act reauthorizes and expands national service programs to engage 4 million Americans.
The goal is to expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017. According to a White House press release, applications this year to AmeriCorps tripled from 2008.
If Beck took a minute to abandon his avant garde performance art career, he might have noticed that passage of the Act garnered bipartisan support. Even George Bush supported it.
But if you take off your lederhosen, hop off the table, and get out of the Fox Studios in New York City, the view from the ground looks, well, quite different. One might even ask, has Glenn Beck ever left the safe confines of his well-lit New York City studio to actually talk to real people working to build the non profit media arts infrastructures in the United States? I doubt it.
"The Digital Arts Service Corps is a small investment to cause exponential change in communities," counters Belinda Rawlins, the focused, passionate and clear-eyed executive director of the Transmission Project.
As Free Press’ Craig Aaron has pointed out, the US spends a paltry $1.37 per person for public media, compared to Canada’s $22 per person, England’s $80 per person—and the even more mind boggling figure of the US spending $565 per person to bail out AIG.
The Transmission Project, a non-profit center housed in the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, matches Digital Arts Service Corps (DASC) members with public media organizations. Its motto is "amplify the power of public media and technology."
A 2009 Tulane University graduate from Maryland, Kelsey Parris embodies this motto. The Transmission Project placed her with the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which preserves the cultural foodways of minority cultures of the American south and advocates for literacy, nutrition and health. Parris is helping to maintain their webpage, migrate to a new website, and to stay visible online. "It’s a great experience to help a small organization," explains Parris. "I’m learning a lot and I’m having fun."
Digital Arts Service Corps members work with nonprofit public media groups around the country to help organizations become stronger in serving their mission and delivering their services. DASCorps members contribute skills and knowledge in website building, technical programs, board development, fundraising, managing volunteers and other key capacity building activities. The goal of DASCorps members is sustainable change for organizations.
The range of organizations where DASC have been placed show the depth, breadth, reach, impact and yes, redefinition of the public media field in local communities—about as opposite from Fox News as one can go. There’s the Academy for Career Development in Rochester, New York that provides educational opportunities for disabled, disadvantaged, and displaced children, youth, and adults. And Pro Bono Net, focused on increasing "access to justice for the millions of poor people who face legal problems every year without help from a lawyer." And the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, which uses media to tell stories from Western Michigan. And the New Mexico Media Literacy Project which cultivates critical thinking about "media culture to build healthy and just communities."
"The goal of the Digital Arts Service Corps and the Transmission Project is to help organizations do more with less, to build infrastructure, and to have strength to withstand the economic downturn," explained Rawlins. For the Transmission Project, public media can be media centers, PEG access, digital literacy groups or any organization that that deploys media for the public.
Latinitas in El Paso Texas, for example, works with at-risk, low income youths "to build confidence and express themselves through lessons on writing, graphic art, desktop publishing, web design, photography, film-making, and radio production."
"I have learned that change doesn't come quickly but hopefully with my year of service I can leave something useful for Latinitas," observed Claudia Escobar, a DASCorps member. "So far I have helped in recruiting new club leaders for the clubs and setting up all the afterschool programs activities and locations."
Formerly the CTC Vista program (CTC referred to Community Technology Centers), the Digital Arts Service Corps is part of AmeriCorpsVISTA. VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a federally funded program to help communities transition out of poverty through capacity building. It started in 1965.
Many vectors have realigned to bring national service into the public eye in the last year. Both Obama and McCain pushed for national service during the Presidential campaign—and propelled excitement about contributing to communities. The Millennials, the tech-obsessed, digital natives generation born since 1979 to baby boomers, have embraced group oriented community service. The economic collapse of Fall 2008 propelled layoffs, threatened the nonprofit media arts sector, and dimmed the hopes of new college graduates for jobs with health insurance. Many unemployed workers have transferred their skills to the nonprofit sector, making contributions to ideas and organizations larger than the self while looking for a paycheck.
The numbers mark these shifts in stark, almost overwhelming terms. This year, 130 organizations applied to the Transmission Project for 45 placements of DASCorps members. 800 new college graduates, retirees and career transitioners applied for 45 spots.
Members of the DACS, who must be at least 18 years old, receive a stipend ranging from $11,000 to $14,000 depending on placement. Their student loans are deferred for the year of service. At the end of their service, they can opt for a cash award of $1,000 or an educational award of $5,300.
"We’re building the next round of leaders for the field," explained Rawlins. To this end, the Tranmission Project sets up a four day orientation for new corps members on poverty in the United States and the role technology and media plays in moving people out of poverty and into the workforce.
They also provide roadmaps for how work happens on-site, budgeting, health care, expectations, project management, and project outcomes. Organizations have the corps member for one year, contribute $3,500, provide living assistance , and offer opportunities for professional development at a national conference.
Rather than the abstract ideologies propagated by the likes of Glenn Beck and his cronies, the Transmission Project emphasizes results: strong, sustainable organizations, professional growth, increased capacity in the media technology movement, new skills, and innovative programs matched to community needs.
Instead of best practices, the Transmission Project offers artifacts of what they term "honest practices." Artifacts span the gamut from how to to hands on in the new media technology terrain: a community radio manual, a guide to palnning and running festivals, concerts and fundraisers, a windows/MAC translation guide, a iGoogle dashboard, a basic search engine optimization technique, and Twitter guidelines and policies.
So, it's your time to choose. Fox News or your own local community? Glen Beck-- or Belinda, Kelsey, Claudia and the rest of the Digital Arts Service Corps?