By Lila Kitaeff, Technical Director & Senior Video Editor, Reel Grrls
This past weekend I attended the conference of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) in Minneapolis. I had a fun, exhausting and inspiring time, learned new things and made some great connections. And I took a lesson in soldering, used that skill to make my own mini-theremin and then jammed on it with Hank Shocklee, producer of Public Enemy. No big deal.
Usually I identify as a mediamaker, educator and activist. Rarely do I identify as an artist, but the NAMAC conference space reminds me that I am one. Everyone at the conference is in some way involved in media, arts or culture, and in attendance you’ll find educators, activists, gallery owners, visual and performance artists and media arts administrators. The broad range of experiences and organizations represented at NAMAC makes for some great conversations, and the relatively small number of attendees creates a comfortable and relaxed environment.
On day one of the conference I spoke on a panel with three other youth media educators about methods of teaching (and learning) media arts. We focused on the concrete tools that allow us to pass on technical and storytelling skillsets to our students in a safe and supportive environment. The panel was well attended and discussion was lively, with the full second half of the 1½-hour workshop devoted to audience Q&A. Many audience members were starting up or revamping youth programs so the conversation became very specific and practice based.
After the first day’s sessions ended we boarded familiar yellow school buses for city excursions; I chose the youth media tour. I had already gotten a chance to stop by the St. Paul Neighborhood Network on Thursday afternoon, a thriving community access station that is also a great producer of videos by teens, and geek out about equipment with them. The tour gave me a chance to visit two more local orgs working with media and youth. First stop was Kulture Klub Collaborative, a huge multipurpose resource center for homeless youth in the Twin Cities. The upstairs gives kids a space to hang out, get regular meals and childcare, address health needs and access support for education and jobs. Downstairs there’s all kinds of arty awesomeness going on: a stage for performances, a small recording studio with software for making beats and a couple of visual art classrooms. Artists work with Kulture Klub youth on specific projects selected by a youth advisory board, such as the “Before I Die” blackboard wall, or a public dancing project in downtown Minneapolis (in which participants activated a space through art where they are normally harassed by police for hanging around).
Next we visited In Progress, a nonprofit space for young people to develop their skills as storytellers, artists, and leaders. Probably one of the most unique organizational headquarters I’ve seen, In Progress is built into an old house in a residential neighborhood with a backyard firepit next to a big chicken coop. Upstairs from the program space is the director’s home, which she says is often used for overflow when they have large events or classes. Most of their programs don’t take place in this space though, as the all-volunteer staff serves many thousands of kids a year, most of them outside of the Twin Cities area in small rural communities. As one of their teaching artists put it, “if we are asking youth to make a video about their community and experience, that’s not something they can do if they come here. We have to go to them.”
After all this awesomeness our tour bus arrived back at the conference center more than an hour late. We had already missed dinner hour and the shuttle to that evening’s art gallery opening/party, so a few of us checked out a nearby BBQ place. Socializing (I mean networking) is one of the best parts of a conference, and this was a great dinner for that purpose. We talked analog vs. digital technology and compared notes on community media with folks from Wide Angle Youth Media in Baltimore, Philadelphia Youth Media Collaborative, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and Hank Shocklee of Shocklee Entertainment, all while stuffing our faces with cornbread and sauce smothered meats. What could be better?
My second day of the NAMAC conference included a highly informative workshop on Digital Frontiers, copyright and censorship, plus the aforementioned soldering/theremin-making workshop put on by the Twin Cities Maker/Hacker Collective. I have filmed people learning to solder at radio barnraisings and activist workshops, but this was my first time getting to do it myself. It was so much fun! The day ended with a MAG-Net mixer at local anchor organization Main Street Project’s headquarters. It was great to chat with old and new friends working on media justice issues, and to connect to the wealth of knowledge and experience represented in the room.
Finally, the conference’s closing night party took place at the Soap Factory, a huge warehouse housing many different whimsical art installations. As I played a giant game of battleship and ran through a tunnel of high-fiving high school football players with artists and educators from all over the country, I was reminded of a statement often made by organizers of one of my favorite events, the Allied Media Conference in Detroit: In order to do meaningful work with others we must also have fun together. That’s just one of the reasons why this weekend’s NAMAC conference was so meaningful for me.
Lila Kitaeff is the Technical Director and Senior Video Editor at Reel Grrls, a nonprofit program teaching media literacy and filmmaking to grrls ages 9-19. Lila graduated from Macalester College with degrees in Cultural Studies: Film & Media and Communications. She is an award-winning video editor and her work has shown on the Documentary Channel, PBS, the Seattle Channel, Democracy Now! and has screened at film festivals nationally and internationally. Her freelance writing has been featured in many publications including The Utne Reader, Youth Media Reporter and Jump Cut Film Journal. Lila served on the board of Rain City Rock Camp for Girls and was a founding board member of video collective PepperSpray Productions. She has been a weekly radio DJ at community station KBCS 91.3FM since 2003.