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December 02 2009


2008 Knight News Challenge Winner Launches Open Media Foundation

Open Media Foundation Launches in Denver**
Deproduction, a Denver-based nonprofit media and technology organization has reorganized as the Open Media Foundation. The nonprofit media and technology organization was founded in 2003, offering media and technology training and services to nonprofits and individuals in the Denver Metro Area. In recent years, the organization spawned Denver Open Media, the Open Media Project, and a number of web-based initiatives through the Civic Pixel web & design department launched in 2008. The new name and website were officially announced November 19th at a fundraising breakfast hosted by Ashara Ekundayo and featuring presentations from Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and Leslie Matthews, President of the OMF Board of Directors.

"Its not just a name-change," stated Leslie Matthews at the event, "the organization has grown significantly over the years, launching Denver Open Media in 2006, and merging with Civic Pixel to offer high end web & design services in 2008. While these efforts have been aligned with our strategic vision, the multiple brands and independent websites made it difficult to understand the cohesive design of the organization." The new OpenMediaFoundation.org website aims to convey the concerted strategy behind the various business activities of the organization, from high-end media and technology services, to training and education, and ultimately, access to the media and technology tools.

"The end goal is a community where every organization and individual, not only the privileged and wealthy, have the ability to engage in mass communications and reflect their own perspective in the larger social conversations that happen through media and technology," added Brian Hiatt, Director of IT for the Open Media Foundation. Today, over 200 local nonprofit organizations have a website or video produced by the Open Media Foundation. "We train hundreds of individuals each year, and we operate 3 Public Access TV channels in Denver" adds Hiatt. In addition, the Open Media Foundation manages the Colorado Channel, a statewide version of C-Span, for the Colorado State Legislature. This year, the Colorado Channel and OMF add daily Senate coverage to the mix, after two years of broadcasting the State House of Representatives. "Everything we do is aimed at putting the power of media in the hands of our community" Hiatt explains.
Nation-Wide Impact:**
In 2008, together with Civic Pixel, the OMF team re-built the software that transformed Denver's Public Access TV station into a constituent-led, Net 2.0 media hub, and made it available to anyone through Drupal.org. Dubbed the Open Media Project, this year the OMF has helped to install the software and unique community media model in 7 beta test stations. New partners continue to join every month, including Free Speech TV and the Bay Area Video Coalition, all looking to contribute to the open-source software that could help unite noncommercial media institutions as a new kind of user-driven media network.

Early next year, the OMF plans to release the Open Media Project software as a new kind of free software package, a Packaged Drupal Installation Profile being designed with support from the Drupal Association and fellow Knight News Challenge winner, Quiddities. At the same time, the Open Media Foundation will receive word on the $2.2million stimulus grant requested through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, aimed at extending the Open Media Project with 20 new community media partners. The final stage of the Knight News Challenge grant concludes in 2010, with a focus on content sharing among the Open Media Project beta test stations.

Denver Open Media Turns 3!
In Denver, one of the three Public Access Cable TV channels is automatically scheduled based on votes from the website and SMS/Text, featuring the best of over 5,000 shows submitted in just the past 3 years. In 2010, the same software that makes this possible will also enable Denver Open Media and its partner stations to share top-rated content from across the nation, allowing each station to feature the best of their combined content. The Open Media Foundation will celebrate these and other accomplishments this Friday, Dec 4th at the 3-year anniversary of Denver Open Media. The festivities will be shared live on Denver Open Media, Comcast Channel 56, online at denveropenmedia.org, and on the radio via KGNU 88.5FM-Denver and 1390AM-Boulder. The event will feature musical performances from Sole and Itchy-O and interviews with a number of Open Media Foundation partners and members.

November 30 2009


Virtual Street Corners Aims to Engage Public, Connect Neighbors

#5-Pedestrians in brookline.jpgOne of the primary challenges of any community art project is how to engage the audience. If no one is lured to participate, the dynamism of the piece is lost.

Virtual Street Corners, my Knight-funded community art project, benefits from the fact that there is an element of symbolism due to the respective histories of the two neighborhoods we are trying to connect. As I noted in my grant overview, "The Greater Boston neighborhoods of Brookline and Roxbury are 2.4 miles apart, yet there is little interaction between them because of divisions of race and class."

This helps create interest in the project. I have received quite a response from people just by invoking the idea of establishing a live 24-hour connection between these two community hubs. Many have said that just having people acknowledge or greet each other is a significant leap forward. For example, here's part of an email I received from a Brookline High School student:

"... I have been working for The Food Project near Dudley Square (Roxbury) for three years, taking the 66 [bus] all the time. It's a terrible cliche, but the Brookline and Roxbury have often felt worlds apart. One of the only other BHS students I've met who had even heard of Dudley Square, know it as "the end of the 66 you don't want to go to" or ask me "Aren't you scared you'll get shot?" So when I hear someone is doing something concrete and creative to try and bridge this gap, it makes me teary happy.... It makes me laugh to think that eighty years ago when Roxbury was more Irish than African American, my grandma went to barn dances under the same roof."

We recently set up a pilot project of Virtual Street Corners to test the concept, and this resulted in some fascinating interactions. It also exposed some potential drawbacks. One participant wrote to me about their experience:

"...there was an odd sense of safety in talking with someone I had never met, about anything. It's as if the virtuality of the whole thing emboldened us to say things we'd never say if we simply sat next to each other on a bus."

Geographically Close, But a World Apart

#1 -crowd gathers in Roxbury.jpg

Many people, after an initial greeting, were unsure where to go with the conversation. It is my goal in this second edition of the project to inspire or provoke people into having more involved conversations and exchanges. I'd even like to see people travel from one location to the other. Despite it being a 15-minute bus ride between these two neighborhoods, it is amazing how rarely this happens. To illustrate this point, I interviewed 25 people in each location. I asked them to draw the path they had traveled that day on a map. The results were even more dramatic than I had imagined. As you can see below, their the paths barely touch.

#9-Map showing paths of residents.jpg

The challenge is to get them to engage with each other and this project. There are two approaches I am focusing on: effective design and community organizing. I am also happy that a number of prominent academics in the field have agreed to advise me on the project. Francisco Ricardo, a media and contemporary art theorist and an advisor, outlined the challenge well during one of our discussions:

What is helpful is not to be too drawn into narrow/literalistic comparisons between your work and that of others -- the comparison should be conceptual above structural, and in that case, it compares with phenomenological works like Nauman's Live/Taped Video Corridor because what viewers are engaging is not dialogue/non-dialogue, but rather separateness/union. That is the first encounter in the experience, and dialogue happens next. But, alluding to an earlier concern I'd made, Nauman was aware of exactly how long the interaction was to last, and structured the corridor's curiosity factor for 1-2 minutes. Tuning an installation so that what it produces matches the amount of time one would likely spend in it is important in every work that hopes to elicit response. So the time factor depends on the built environment. The most realistic way to approach it is to "engineer" a plausible goal into the experience, some way for visitors to want to exclude external stimuli and distraction while trying to engage in the work.

Creating Visual Cues

During the next couple of months, I will be working with designers to figure out an effective way to use visual cues to draw people into the space, and also create an easily navigated interaction. In the pilot installation, I initially favored a more wide-open opportunity for people to talk about whatever they wished, as opposed to steering the conversation. However, this approach ended up leaving most people at a loss for what to say.

Caesar McDowell, CEO of Dropping Knowledge and professor at MIT, believes that the project creates a great opportunity to address specific issues and urged me to take an active role in facilitating the dialogue.

We talked of a number of possibilities, including posing questions, replaying previous clips of conversations, and providing historical information. McDowell also thought that rather than running the piece continuously, it might create more excitement to instill a periodic countdown along the lines of, "we will be live in X minutes." Another promising solution would be to install question-gathering booths two weeks before the start of the live screens. (This worked successfully for GhanaThinktank in Liverpool.) The idea is that this would get people acquainted with, and thinking about, the project. They could consider what conversations they might like to have, while also becoming familiarized with the screen and space.

Community Outreach

I will be dedicating the next two months to community organizing/outreach. I will be trying to discover the primary issues of important to each neighborhood, and to get people invested in using the project to further those goals. I am very open to tweaking the project to help accomplish the objectives that are revealed in that process.

The other challenge that I face is finding and hiring three "citizen reporters" for each neighborhood. They will bring back daily reports to share over the screen when Virtual Corners is implemented. I'd be grateful for any advice or recommendations you can provide in the comments about this process. I've never had to hire reporters before!

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