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March 31 2013

20:29

Boston: Upcoming Events in April

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your nameAre you interested in sharing your knowledge at RootsCamp MA this week? How about participating in next weekend's Cleanweb Hackathon? Or would you like to join the 501 Tech Club for a happy hour?

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September 14 2011

22:53

MediaShift Mixer Co-Hosted with ONA

Please join us at our MediaShift Mixer co-hosted by ONA in Boston as a kick-off to the ONA11 Conference (but you don't have to be registered for the conference to attend). Here's a partial list of the special guests at the mixer:

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Mark Glaser, MediaShift
Dorian Benkoil, MediaShift

Jeanne Brooks, ONA

Andy Carvin, NPR

Professor Jeremy Caplan, CUNY

Professor Jere Hester, CUNY

Doug Mitchell, Project Director, UNITY

Greg Linch, Washington Post

Dan Schultz, MIT Media Lab

Miranda Mulligan, Boston Globe

Tiffany Campbell, Seattle Times

Chris Krewson, Variety.com

Details

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September 21, 2011
Wednesday night

7 pm to 9 pm or so

Storyville (formerly the Saint)
90 Exeter St.

Boston, MA 02116

(617) 236-1134

Google Map location

The first round is on MediaShift; just find "the guy in the hat"!

This Mixer is brought to you by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Please RSVP for the event with this form. We will prioritize people who RSVP'ed ahead of time in case of a large turnout.

(Note: You don't have to be registered for ONA to attend our Mixer.)

If you are interested in sponsoring future events, please contact MediaShift through this form.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

July 21 2011

14:55

VIDEOS: Should the MIT-Knight Civic Media Confab Get Supersized?

One of the things we at MIT are very quietly considering -- quietly in the same sense that I first considered getting a creative writing degree, as in, seduced by the prospect while overawed by the reality -- is holding a large, public civic media conference as part of, or in addition to, our invitation-only Civic Media Conference with the Knight Foundation.

We last discussed it as videos from this year's Civic Media Conference came online, and I'd like to share those videos, not just for their own sake, but for you to ask yourself: Would you travel to Boston to be a part of these kinds of talks if we had 2,000 people rather than 250? Hearing your thoughts might just push us in the big-conference direction.

Crowdsourcing Crisis: How Civic Media Informs Breaking News

The first half of 2011 has seen dramatic events -- some tragic, others encouraging -- take place across the globe. From revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia to an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, breaking news has been reported by individual citizens as well as professional journalists. And explaining the complex nuances of unfolding events has shown the power of civic media in informing local communities and the wider world.

In this session, we talked with two individuals who've been part of efforts to share perspectives from civic media with a global audience. Mohamed Nanabhay, head of New Media at the AlJazeera Network, helped unpack the North African revolutions using video from Facebook and other online sources. And Joi Ito, the new head of MIT's Media Lab, has worked with a group of civic reporters and citizen scientists in Japan to document the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The two discuss the emerging media environment, where professional and civic media interact to produce a richer and more inclusive picture of global events.



MIT Tech TV

Download Crowdsourcing Crisis (.mp4)


Civic Media Mobilization

Successful civic media tools -- especially ones designed by this conference's attendees -- re-engineer how mass-mobilization happens. But does that mean we should turn the page on old lessons?

Originally envisioned as a way to connect like-minded people across borders, civic media is proving just as powerful at mobilizing neighbors, in their towns, where they vote. So even for national issues, is all civic media really local? From the Wisconsin protests to presidential campaigns, civic media is playing a larger role in organizing communities and defining political arenas. This conversation between an organizer and activist explores how online activism differs from face-to-face.

Chris Faulkner, a member of the Tea Party, spends much of his time organizing online. Yesenia Sanchez, from P.A.S.O.-West Suburban Action Project 52, works street-level to drive community participation. Together with moderator Damian Thorman, the two discussed ways organizers can use online and offline strategies to their advantage and debate situations in which one is more effective than the other.



MIT Tech TV

Download Civic Media Mobilization (.mp4)


Mobile Storytelling in Real Time



MIT Tech TV

  • Andy Carvin, National Public Radio
  • Liz Henry, BlogHer
  • Dan Sinker, Columbia College Chicago, @mayoremanuel

Download Mobile Storytelling in Real Time (.mp4)


The Future of Civic Media



MIT Tech TV

  • Sasha Costanza-Chock, MIT Comparative Media Studies
  • Chris Csikszentmihályi, MIT Center for Civic Media
  • Ethan Zuckerman, Berkman Center/MIT Center for Civic Media

Download The Future of Civic Media (.mp4)

So after checking out these videos, what do you think? Should we should take the Civic Media Conference to the next level?

March 10 2011

14:00

Why We Won't Live-Stream Restraining Order Hearings

One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about our project, Order in the Court 2.0, to live-stream court proceedings is, "Is there a way to turn the camera off?" They must imagine a camera bolted to the wall, gobbling up images of domestic violence victims and child sex offenders with no regard to how it affects justice being served.

But I have the opposite fear too -- that the judges in those courtrooms will become so skittish that they'll keep turning the camera off and we'll lose the ideal of openness that is the purpose of our project and a cornerstone of that little thing we call democracy.

So this question of when to keep the camera on and when to turn it off is a complicated one that involves balancing transparency with privacy. It has provoked more controversy than any other question that we've posed.

Knowing that we had a range of viewpoints from "show everything" to "protect the privacy of victims," we asked the Cyberlaw Clinic out of Harvard Law School to put together a preliminary checklist of reasons that the camera could potentially be turned off and took the list to meetings with both local and high-level stakeholders to get their input.

We want to work towards a list of loose guidelines that could guide the judges and clerks, while causing the least amount of interference with the court's business.

First, a little bit about our setup. There will always be a producer present when the camera is on, but it will be the judge and the clerk who actually turn it on and off.

Down in Quincy

We met with the local group in Quincy District Court first. We first ruled out certain proceedings from live-streaming: any cases involving minors or the victims of sexual abuse or assault; and any part of the voir dire or jury empanelment hearings. We also won't be showing the faces of jurors.

Participants brought up the statues that protect the privacy of criminal records and mental health records and we debated how to deal with those cases.

Then came the cases that are up to the judge's discretion. First Justice Mark Coven reiterated that all proceedings were free to be live-streamed but that he would be willing to consider turning off the camera on a case-by-case basis. If a lawyer or advocate has good reason to object to a proceeding being filmed, he or she may file a motion. Judge Coven has said he doesn't want to scare women off from applying for a restraining order.

People at the meeting brought up cases that they could imagine objecting to. These cases tended to fall into three major categories: the protection of victims, of witnesses and of defendants. For example:

  • A woman filing for a restraining order who won't go forward with it if she has to appear before the camera.
  • A spouse or parent committing a family member for substance abuse who doesn't want the community to know about their family problem.
  • An inflammatory sexual assault allegation that the defense has reason to believe is fabricated.
  • An identification case.

The defense lawyers and the representative of DOVE, the domestic violence advocacy group, were satisfied with the result, saying that we can't fully know how people will react to the camera until the project really begins.

Meanwhile, back up in Boston

When we put the same issues before our advisory board, they came up with the opposite answer to the question about restraining order hearings.

We recruited for our advisory board the same constellation of diverse viewpoints as we did with the local group, with the idea that they could offer us a kaleidoscopic view of the court. When we debated whether or not to show the restraining orders, we saw their full range of opinions.

We presented one of the arguments for showing the restraining order proceedings that had come out of our local meetings: the idea that a domestic violence victim watching at home might see the process and understand that she (or he) could come down to the court to apply for one themselves.

The representative of the Massachusetts Bar Association disagreed with this, saying that there are better ways to educate the public and that showing the proceedings could both expose the victim to more physical danger and public humiliation as well as permanently damage the reputation of those who have restraining orders filed against them that are eventually denied.

The head of the D.A.'s Victim Witness Services department concurred, saying that this project "can't afford a body."

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy also agreed, saying that family issues are too sensitive and too fraught with peril to live-stream, at least at the beginning stages of our project.

The only objection came from a Boston University law professor and former ACLU counsel who said that if reporters are allowed into the courtroom, then our cameras should be too. (He also made the disclaimer that as an academic he doesn't really have a dog in the race.)

Justice Cordy said that in theory that's how we would like to operate but in reality there are perils of opening the court through technology. He said he didn't want this issue to trip up the project right at the beginning and that we should revisit the issue later.

These comments drove home to us the seriousness of our project and the impact it might have on people's lives. We want to proceed carefully.

Back in Quincy, Judge Coven disagreed with the advisory board's decision, saying that he believed live-streaming the proceedings would show what a big problem domestic violence is in Quincy, but that he would abide by the decision. He plans to move sensitive cases to other courtrooms rather than turning on and off the camera.

With all of this input, we'll be finalizing the checklist of guidelines soon.

January 18 2011

15:30

Alan Taylor brings his “Big Picture” prowess to The Atlantic

Starting in February, The Atlantic will have a new section on its website: In Focus, a photography blog featuring “photo essays on the major news and trends of the day.”

Editing the site will be Alan Taylor, who’s moving to the magazine from the Boston Globe, where, for the past two-and-a-half years, he edited Boston.com’s celebrated photo-essay feature, The Big Picture. The Globe is maintaining The Big Picture as a blog and an iPad/iPhone app — and retaining the name, too — but Taylor’s departure is still a big loss. He’d built up The Big Picture into both a web property with 8 million pageviews a month and an app that, with its lush images, is often cited as one of the most logical-for-tablets apps out there. The move is a big gain for The Atlantic, though, which is becoming known for its inspired hiring choices.

I spoke with Taylor to find out more about what In Focus will look like.

“I have a lot of plans, some small, some big,” he told me. One of the broadest goals will be expanding the format — “not necessarily many more pictures, or pictures that are much more gigantic” (though, hey, a Bigger Picture could be awesome and fitting for the times), “but just kind of going to the next level with it.”

One of the most notable things that next level may include is more user involvement. At the Globe, Taylor got to do some experiments with user-generated content, he notes, “and that worked really, really well. And I’d like to not only do similar things to that, but even more so.” In Focus might also involve more interaction with photographers and agencies — and, in general, “things that take time to get out and do and integrate and build.”

And that time will be key. At the Globe, Taylor’s job has been to be both a web developer and The Big Picture’s editor. “Part of the agreement to let me run the Big Picture was that I kept doing the other web development that needed to be done,” he noted in a blog post. “I agreed to that arrangement, and tried my best to make it work, but in the end, it was often unworkable — one or the other job would suffer when there were crunch times.”

Now, come February, the single photography feature will be Taylor’s, er, focus. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done professionally,” he says. “And it’s become clear to me that it’s something I want to do for years to come.”

July 07 2010

18:34

Highlights and Pitfalls of Virtual Street Corners Project

We're just winding down my Knight News Challenge project, Virtual Street Corners, and haven't had time to sort through all the recorded materials and debrief the participants, but I wanted to share some initial thoughts and reactions.

The most encouraging takeaway from the project was the enthusiastic response it received. It seems to have struck a nerve and could be well worthy of further investigation. The piece is widely accessible without being overly simplistic, with the potential for opening up complex social interactions. On the other hand, there were also various aspects that fell short of my expectations.

Conversing.jpg

The project aimed to connect the Boston neighborhoods of Brookline and Roxbury through citizen journalists' video newscasts that were projected on life-size screens to enable real-time interaction between citizens.

It seems funny in this era of technology, but people treated the idea of seeing another street corner across town appear in the window as something magical. They laughed and many people just found it very entertaining to connect in this way. I had many requests to set the installation up in other places -- including the MBTA, Boston's public transportation system -- and we attracted a wide range of willing participants. We also received excellent media attention, ranging from wide coverage in the blogosphere to substantial pieces in the Atlantic, the front page of the Boston Globe, CBC Radio, and WGBH (PBS) TV.

Virtual-Greater-Boston-.jpg

Local politicians -- from city councilors to former presidential nominee Michael Dukakis -- joined with artists, educators and activists to take part in street corner dialogues on a range of issues. Electricians, carpenters, web conferencing experts, community organizers and commercial designers all stepped up to donate services. However, one of my biggest lessons is that free is never completely free. As one person on our team was fond of saying, "Out of fast, cheap and good quality -- you can get two but never all three."

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Tech Issues

In the end, I underestimated the amount of resources needed to carry out the project on the scale I had envisioned. My biggest pitfall occurred in the tech department. We went into the project with tremendous momentum -- an article on the front page of the Boston Globe on opening night, a great team of journalists, an exciting lineup of participants to carry out the street corner forums. I put the majority of my time and resources into community organizing, outreach and design, wanting to make sure that I moved the conversation from simple greetings into important and unique dialogues that this particular installation had the potential of achieving.

Having experimented with the installation before, I expected the tech piece to fall into place without too much difficulty. Getting a high-speed internet connection, videoconferencing and recording it all to a hard drive seemed like it should be pretty straightforward -- but that was not the case.

The combination of the various components, and getting them to operate for extended periods in environments other than what they were designed for, created endless problems. The issues were compounded by working in a community like Roxbury, which has a relatively underdeveloped infrastructure. Things as simple as acquiring high speed Internet became major hurdles. Comcast assured me that they could easily provide the connection but when they arrived for the installation told me it was impossible to do. So we actually had to spend three days rewiring a historic building to acquire Internet access.

I was donated a myriad of high-end equipment, which saved me a lot of money; but it also cost me dearly in time and functionality since I was not familiar enough to troubleshoot problems when they came up. We had many dropped calls and dropped audio, meaning the system was often not functioning.

Furthermore, as I was running the entire tech myself, I had to run back and forth to reset the audio and video each time it went down. This was obviously very frustrating, but the biggest problem was that it discouraged participation. Profound interactions, both planned and spontaneous, were interrupted repeatedly, or had to be rescheduled or cancelled.

Intense Committment Tough to Sustain

Tech problems also posed a major obstacle to the journalism piece of the installation. Our plan was that journalists from each neighborhood would file reports every day, and the reports would run simultaneously, allowing pedestrians to share the same experience and generate conversation between the communities. For a good part of the project, however, the videos would only show at one location or the other. So it was news to only half of the observers, and it interfered with my goal of a mutual experience. This was a huge disappointment and was very demoralizing for the journalists who worked so hard on their pieces.

The other significant problem we encountered was that our staff found it difficult to sustain such an intense commitment over a short period of time (one month). For example, the journalists were hired to file reports five days a week for three weeks. We had three people quit less than two weeks before we started because other longer term and higher paying jobs took priority. No matter how enthusiastic folks were when they were hired, we could not compete with full-time employment and family commitments.

Final Thoughts

We are excited by the potential of the project and how it was embraced by the communities where we installed it. We were also inspired by the relationships that were developed through the piece, and by the number of requests we had to install it permanently or set it up in other locations.

However, I would never again work with equipment I wasn't able to test extensively for months in advance, and would make sure I was able to pay enough money to retain skilled labor despite the length of the project.

Those are my inital impressions, and I'll share more thoughts soon.

June 17 2010

11:08

NetSquared Local Reaches 70 Groups Worldwide!

NetSquared Local MapIn the last two months, we've had 5 new NetSquared Local groups join the scene, bringing the new official number to 70 groups worldwide! Below is a list of the new groups that have just gotten started.

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May 18 2010

18:29

Virtual Street Corners Adds Journalists, Places Ads for Launch

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We are just two weeks out from the install date of Virtual Street Corners and our publicity campaign is gaining momentum. The project will connect two neighborhoods in Boston via live video connection in public places. We've been picked up a lot on the blogosphere, on CBC radio in Canada, and The Atlantic magazine came out today with a feature that put Virtual Street Corners on the front page of its website.

Within hours I had an email from Israel offering me money and assistance to set up the same project between Tel Aviv and the West Bank. That was interesting because I started with that concept years ago, and also because I had an offer to pull in a live feed from Gaza. So we are currently exploring the possibility of bringing in live feeds from international sources for a couple days during the course of our installation. On the one hand it could garner a lot of interest, but on the other hand it could be a distraction from the focus on local interaction/relationships in the Boston area.

By bringing the conflict in the Middle East into our project, I worry that we could exacerbate the existing tensions between Dudley and Coolidge, the two neighborhoods we're focused on connecting. There is a possibility things could get ugly, since people feel such passion about the issue. Yet the concept of using this technology to address social division and to allow people to represent themselves and be in direct communication is very much what Virtual Street Corners is about. It is interesting how such a hyper-local focused project is resonating nationally and internationally.

Advertising

Who am I to you?
Where do you get your news?
Everyone has an opinion.

Those are some of the taglines on the ads that I recently dropped off at the printer. We were donated space on city buses to advertise Virtual Street Corners, and they specifically gave us space on Route 66 because it connects the two neighborhoods where we will be putting our installation. If you are out and about in Boston hopefully you'll see a few of these roll by:

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Meet the Journalists

Citizen journalists are a backbone of the news-sharing aspect of our installation, and despite it being a short term and underpaid gig we have managed to get an array of qualified folks with strong roots in the neighborhoods.

Our journalists in Roxbury are lifelong residents. Yawu Miller is a freelance journalist and photographer. He is a former managing editor of the Bay State Banner, a weekly newspaper serving Boston's African American community. Miller was born in Boston and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990.

Jamarhl Crawford has worked in all kinds of media, including print and radio as well as being a poet and performer. He has lectured at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, Northeastern, Boston University, and Boston College; he's been on BBC and NPR and performed with Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Amiri Baraka, Gil-Scot Heron, Run-DMC and many others. Stand on a corner with Crawford in Dudley and you will quickly be introduced to six or seven people.

Our Brookline reporters include Emily Corwin who works at the Public Radio Exchange, hosts and produces "The Neighborhood" on WMBR in Cambridge and does freelance radio production in the Boston area. Her stories have aired on public radio stations across the country.

Also working in Brookline is Joanna Marinova, co-director of Press Pass TV, a non-profit organization that engages youth in advocacy journalism to tell the stories of those communities that work for change. And Sue Katz is an author, journalist, teacher and blogger who has lived on three continents and been widely published in each.

Something that will be both challenging and very interesting is seeing how the reporters negotiate this new media form. Some are planning to bring people directly to the portals, in order to interview them; others will upload video and photographs they have recorded; and others plan to recount stories and make commentary. Of course, each will be interacting with a live crowd on the other end. Hopefully they will be able to adapt in exciting ways.

The other element we have thrown in to help activate participation is to organize discussions between people in the two neighborhoods. Some examples: A city councillor from Roxbury will meet with their counterpart in Brookline; musicians will play together via video; Peace in Focus, a group that uses cameras and photography to teach peace to teens, will be taking photos and interviewing people from each location, and along the bus route that connects the neighborhoods. They will then show the photos and talk about their experience.

In addition, students from the local public high schools will compare their experiences and discuss education. The Imam from a mosque near Dudley Square will discuss religion and religious freedom with a Rabbi in Brookline. We have identified many more issues, and have many people in Roxbury eager to engage in the conversation, but we have less connections in Brookline and are still trying to find participants on that end.

Lastly, we are preparing to launch our website, which will have reports from our journalists, video clips of interesting conversations that have occurred, and ongoing commentary and discussions about the topics we are addressing.

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May 17 2010

20:49

Wanna Come Out and Play? Community Engagement & Technology Development

When my old friend and collaborator Leo Burd returned to MIT as a research scientist for Center for Future Civic Media's (C4FCM), we started to gather some like-minded folks to discuss how media and mapping tools and youth civic engagement can intersect in the world of the Media Lab. Both of us have often been called a bridges or a translators between technology developers and underserved community members.  We see a value in equalizing the power that comes from self construction, blurring the role of creator and user.

At first, we just wanted to be part of multi-directional conversations and find creative ways to document the ideas exchanged.  Across what seemed like a very disparate set of projects, we found a common value in finding or making new technologies that are appropriate for youth use directly reflect on and affect change in their everyday worlds.   Our individual place-based approaches didn't hinder us from talking about replicability across complexities of culture, politics, and context, in places like Rio, Lima, Gaza, and Roxbury.  These conversations and ideas became a new kind of renewable fuel for further development of new or more appropriate technology tools for youth in underserved situations.

At heart, we wanted to create processes of development where innovation happens iteratively with community educators, activists and youth as collaborators not end users. Many of us come from the Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten (LLK) school of constructivism, project and personal interest-based hands-on learning.  In a world of imagination and play, invention is without limits and most importantly FUN.  New half-baked technologies, like new toys, lets us be kids again.  Through a collaborative process of software development, tinkering can equalize the role of inventor and user and harken us back to a space where imagination and creativity can win you the power of attention and solidarity.

You could make an argument that play is just play, but many child development researchers would argue that play is an essential part of children developing into social and productive human beings.  Linking play, and the innovation it can produce, with tangible utility and action in a certain place is an exciting opportunity.  So when we reviewed Kate Balug's class project proposing a new city department focused on youth mapping their own safe play spots in their own neighborhoods, the Department of Play moniker and a vision was born.

Belfast Computer Clubhouse, Ireland 200

Playing games in a public space are more fun with different kinds of players and if they keep happening over time.  Early on, we prioritized outreach and relationship building as an essential building block of our community engagement approach at the Department of Play.  This approach is essentially the next generation of LLK and Computer Clubhouse Green Table.  At each Clubhouse and later at the Media Lab at monthly meetings of coordinators and MIT students, the Green Table was both a literal and symbolic "village green," a space for open assembly and participation.   This spring, the core members of the Dept. of Play facilitated conversations and new relationships, sparked in weekly researcher meetings across fields and department and in a monthly meetups where we invited local Boston community organizers and educators into the mix.  Then we started to reach out to other theoretical thinkers or experts in the fields of children's rights, international development, and community based change.

Time and time again, we told our own personal stories of creating tools for change in a place, with the idea that mutually beneficial relationships can yield the best cycles for feedback and development.  We centered conversations about functionality and use around everyday issues, not because we wanted to just observe or validate our own ideas and tools.  We want to build a community of creators who will take to play with innovations that worked in one place and vision if they could apply in other contexts.

My City, My FutureA perfect example is a new curriculum we're developing, aimed at bringing Jeff Warren's grassroots participatory and activist mapping techniques to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro via the MIT IDEAS Competition winning My City, My Future project and behind the walls of Gaza and the West Bank via Voices Beyond Walls new Re-Imagining Project.  In all these places, we'll be taking lessons and technologies developed in action-based research and asking new groups of youth and adult mentors to add their own new ideas to developing tools for storytelling and visualization.  These three collaborators will work with youth on the ground to help us develop a neighborhood mapping tool on top of Jeff's Cartagen framework, then we'll bring this software to the youth here in Boston to try to adapt it to the context of their community centers and affordable housing developments.

Beyond finding resources to support projects and software development, the most challenging aspect of this approach is the TIME and effort it takes to build relationships and trust.  Groups like C4FCM are formed to take MIT innovations beyond ideation to sustainable civically-minded implementation.   At the Department of Play, we take it step further, trying to put that action in the hands of the youth with a spirit of purpose, curiosity and the joy of learning that adults too quickly grow out of unfortunately.

So Leo, mysef and the rest of the DoP team will keep purposely playing on the two teams of MIT and the youth community.  Come join us! http://departmentofplay.org

April 19 2010

21:27

Who's New to Net2 Local?

Net2 Local mapThis spring has brought 9 new NetSquared Local groups, bringing the new official number to 67 groups worldwide! Below is a list of the groups that have started in the last few months.

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March 30 2010

16:20

Contrasting Boston Neighborhoods for Virtual Street Corners

Things have started to kick into gear for Virtual Street Corners, my project that will connect the Boston towns of Brookline and Roxbury by live 24-hour video connection. At this point the most time-consuming task is community organizing as we create excitement for the project and identify groups who will use the installation to generate dialogue between the two neighborhoods. The project requires us to draw on the resources of each community as we solicit merchants for space, identify community groups who use the portal, introduce technology and plan the aesthetics of the installation itself.


virtual street corners grab.jpg

Dudley Square is a commercial hub in a predominantly black neighborhood lined with sub shops, check cashing stations and some chain retail stores. At its heart is the main bus terminal in the MBTA system and a police station. Finding a space here has been more challenging than in Brookline. The differences in community resources and income between the two neighborhoods are apparent. Firstly, most of the retailers in Dudley Square are part of large national chains who will not grant permission for a local project in their store. Most of the smaller businesses rent from corporate landlords with similar policies. Thus most of the decision makers who control use of space in the neighborhood are outside the community and have little direct contact with life in the area.

One of the organizers working with us is native to Roxbury and knows Dudley Square well. He approached an independent bookstore and convenience store about allowing us to use their storefront for the installation. This store is one of the focal points of the intersection and an ideal space for the project. He has known the owners for many years and expected that they would be glad to host the project. However he met considerable resistance, because they were suspicious about being used by "outsiders."

In contrast, Coolidge Corner has many local independent retailers who own their businesses. It is easier to meet face-to-face with someone able to give a decision right then and there. Brookline Booksmith, a local bookstore, will house the project in Coolidge Corner.

The number of community groups and organizers already working in the Dudley Square neighborhood has significantly enhanced our efforts for community organizing there. Activist, environmental and non-profit groups are present to improve access and conditions for a neighborhood with less economic resources. Many of the organizations have been excited to work with us and many have headquarters right in Dudley Square. Organizations here focus on equity, social justice, and job training. In contrast, Coolidge Corner is part of Brookline, which is a more affluent, and enfranchised, community. The civic organizations tend to be religious, charitable, merchant organizations with membership that extends well beyond Coolidge Corner. We have had more difficulty finding organizations interested in civic engagement and cross-cultural exchange in CC.

Installing Technology

Installing the technology is considerably easier and ironically much cheaper in Coolidge Corner. It is filled with bookstores and cafes which offer high speed Internet access. Whereas in Dudley Square, none of the major Internet providers service the area. It costs over $500 just to get a basic high speed connection, even though Dudley is in the heart of Boston. This raises another challenge in that there is considerably less foot traffic in Dudley Square. Despite being one of the major African-American hubs in the city, and home to a major bus depot, there is little pedestrian activity at night, as there are no coffee shops or restaurants, theaters or clubs to provide a social nightlife. Conversely, Coolidge Corner is a destination for shopping, dining, entertainment and a cinema.

Visual and audio interaction between the two neighborhoods is at the crux of what this project should achieve. It seems obvious that the actual street corners need to be conducive to this. Here too the contrast is evident. Sidewalks in CC are clean, well lit, and wide enough for a group to stand and passersby to continue on their way. Although there is heavy auto traffic, and a T stop, conversation is audible and there are rarely sounds loud enough to fill the space.

In contrast Dudley has sidewalks so narrow that a group only three people deep force passersby to step off the sidewalk to continue walking and it is difficult to create a comfortable distance between the video screen and the viewer. There are many signs to prevent loitering, or what is considered social interaction across town in Brookline. In Dudley, police are clearly threatened by the idea of groups on the corner and we have been asked to get a permit, even though our lawyers told us that legally it wasn't necessary.

Finally there is the challenge of the noise in DS. Loud sirens and the continuous hum of buses going in and out of the bus depot frequently interrupt conversations. The bus depot and the police station are what make this one of the city's centers and contribute to its vibrancy. However, this poses a technical challenge for us as we try to create public conversations from one street corner to the other.

Overall I am pleased with our efforts on getting the word out about the project and recruiting people to get involved. Hiring a community organizer in each location has been a successful approach. Last week we created a Virtual Street Corners page on Facebook, where we plan to get some early discussions about the issues in each community started. We also received notice that we have been donated 100 spaces for posters on the MBTA (subways and buses), and we have begun hiring our citizen journalists.

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January 15 2010

18:35

Finding Common Ground Between Citizen Art and Citizen Journalism

Comparisons are rarely drawn between the fields of art and journalism. But most of last month's work on my Knight Challenge project, Virtual Street Corners, was spent networking and conducting research into these areas. Since I will be hiring several citizen journalists, I've been reading up on that topic, and thinking about the similarities with the art world, which is something I'm much more familiar with. I've been contemplating whether there are lessons that can be transferred from one to the other.

One of the most obvious connections between citizen journalism and community-based artists is the shared desire to create more expansive and inclusive viewpoints than those offered by larger corporate ventures. In going local (and now hyper-local), both these grassroots movements hope to reach a broader range of people by presenting news or art that is more relevant to the lives of their audience.

Creating an Informed Consumer/Participant

Chi-Town Daily News', a Knight-funded project in Chicago that developed a cadre of citizen reporters, reminded me of Wendy Ewald's art project where she handed out cameras to untrained artists, often kids, and asked them to take pictures, while also training them in the art of photography.

Ewald_SGpg055.jpg

Many of the resulting photos were compelling (like the one above), but Ewald put equal value on how the process affected the new artists. That is, tremendous importance was placed on the transformation occurring among the participants, and how their perceptions changed as they analyzed their environment through a lens. This shift was then transferred to family and community.

If we return to the analogy between Ewald and Chi-town's citizen journalists, it's clear the Chi-town project is doing much more than gathering news quickly and cheaply. The project cultivates a public which is more educated about, and invested in, the process of journalism, thus increasing their interest in journalism, and their ability to analyze and interpret the news.

I always marvel at how, despite the enormous amount of information at people's fingertips, we remain so uninformed. A solution requires more than just developing methods to produce better information -- it requires better ways for people to digest that information and relate it to their personal experience. Although some worry that the democratization of new media has lowered professional standards, increasing participation by "non-professionals" in the creation of news and art creates a more informed consumer (audience), and a higher demand for what we produce.

Dialogue Instead of Didactic

A similar point is made by Jon Pounds in the latest issue of Public Art Review, where he argues that we need to push art to be more like cooking than science. That is to say, we accept that many of us can dabble with and experiment with cooking, while still understanding a need for high quality chefs and food experts. They don't have to be at odds.

It seems to me that the relatively recent activity in the blogosphere, on Twitter and in other forums for non-journalists to delve into the journalistic realm causes us to now ask how journalism is defined. "What is journalism?" This similar tension between fine art and community art is not new. The question, "What is art?" is cliché. But like the new media journalist of today, community artists now believe that we can best reach our audience when we engage in dialogue instead of didactic.

It is for similar reasons that many community-based artists choose to show in public or alternative spaces. While at first it seems that museums and galleries serve the purpose of promoting the importance of art, the flip side is that these institutions help establish a separation between art and daily life. It's a type of ghettoization, if you will, that prevents a majority of the population from experiencing the work. With the purpose of overcoming that division, many community-based or "socially engaged artists" have adopted an approach of either merging their practice with other fields, or disguising their arts identity altogether. I think my foray into journalism/art with Virtual Street Corners harnesses that strategy.

November 30 2009

15:00
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