Free Radio aims to create community-based alternative arts broadcasting
Radio programming coordinated by a UO group during New York City-based workshops will cultivate shared voices for public broadcasts.
For Assistant Professor of Art Brian Gillis, Free Radio started out as a dream. Literally.
“I had a dream one night about building a pirate radio station,” Gillis says, “which made me think about building a community-based project where people develop a voice while learning about, producing, and proliferating content together – something that culminates in the mass distribution of that community’s voice. Radio is free to access and relatively ungovernable and so important to a free society. I felt this was important to expand upon.”
Gillis’s dream soon turned to reality. His project idea, Free Radio, won the first open call by New York City’s Cue Art Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization that supports under-recognized artists through comprehensive arts programming for artists and students. Soon after, Gillis put together a team of artists and educators from the U.S. and Canada to develop the project. From March 22 to May 5, Free Radio will hold a series of workshops in the Cue Art Foundation gallery.
Four workshop groups are scheduled to participate in one-week sessions that include community building, development of their unique voice, archiving that voice, and learning broadcast tools. Each group’s finished project will culminate in a public broadcast transmitted to the New York City metropolitan area. One group will even work with The Moth, the MacArthur Grant-winning New York City-based nonprofit that conducts live storytelling events and has weekly national broadcasts and podcasts.
Above: Brian Gillis
“We want to expand the definition of how information is spread and for them to challenge themselves to create the most effective distribution methods,” Gillis says. “We want them to realize their voices can be heard and to take away from the project a sense of valuing their place within a community.”
John Park, career instructor of digital art at UO, is also on board with the project. He said the best part of working on the project “is an ongoing conversation between my colleague Brian Gillis and I on the various facets of communication, broadcasting, and empowering human beings. It is a ripe time to consider the power of human voice, especially in light of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring and a host of other fluctuations of global social change. Now that it is clear that small people can make large changes, these tools of amplification gain a renewed sense of power.”
Gillis’s philosophy for the project is strictly a hands-off approach. He says he’ll give the participants the tools necessary to create and disseminate their broadcasts, but after that, he’ll step back.
“There’s no predetermined medium,” says Gillis. “After we set things up and facilitate workshops and tech trainings, we’ll stay out of it. We really don’t want to limit them. We want them to access what they already know and take over the space so as to use it as a laboratory for the development and mass proliferation of what voice is unique to them. I’m really excited to see how it all comes together.”
As director of technology for Free Radio, Park has been charged with researching broadcasting technologies and finding the most effective methods to enable everyday people to gain access to these tools.
“This leads to technical problem-solving of doing things like building a radio transmission system for one of the cities with the highest population densities in the world (NYC),” he says. “But it also leads to pedagogical challenges, such as teaching different community demographics the basic principals of recording, editing, and transmitting content.”
Based on the definition of broadcasting – “to scatter widely”– groups will be exposed to a myriad of different technology associated with broadcasting, ranging from AM and FM transmitters to photocopiers, sound meters, flags, talking drums, and more.
Above: John Park. Photo by Sabina Samiee.
That wide spectrum of involvement is key to the project, Park says. “When (Gillis) told me the concept won approval of the CUE Foundation, I really began to appreciate the breadth of his art practice. Here we have a professor of ceramics working on a large-scale installation that addresses social power, tools of democratization, and handing over to different community groups the environment they need to broadcast their viewpoint. I think this is a bold and daring vision for art practice.”
The four participating groups in Free Radio include: Upbeat NYC, a music program for at-risk youth; Brooklyn Youth Company, a youth theater company; Verbal Pyrotechnics, a group of young adult authors who publish an e-zine; and Occupy Wall Street activist Chris Cobb, who hopes to use this occasion to further organize various Occupy working groups. More information about FreeRadio can be found here. Information about Cue Art Foundation can be found at cueartfoundation.org.
Story by Emily Wilson