March 17, 2011

A story-driven Web platform for communities

Shelbyville project kicks off with a series of ‘Welcoming’ videos

JD LasicaChances are you haven’t yet heard of Shelbyville, a small rural community in Tennessee, much less than the upcoming “Welcome to Shelbyville” documentary or the online project that is forging a pilot, or prototype, for communities to tell and share their own stories. So let me share my initial impressions of this remarkable, ambitious, exciting effort.

On Monday I was lucky enough to be a part of a “digital braintrust” of 20 progressive media and nonprofit representatives at the Bay Area Video Coalition headquarters convened by Active Voice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that uses film, television and multimedia to spark social change.

We spent two hours reviewing the Shelbyville Multimedia project and offering ideas about how to finish it out and what to do differently next time. First, a quick overview:

miss-marilyn

Miss Marilyn, a retired public elementary school teacher who taught in Shelbyville for 34 years.

Active Voice conceived the vision of building a story-driven Web platform and brought together a team consisting of Free Range Studios, a creative services firm, and documentary filmmaker Kelly Whalen.

Over much of the past year, the parties combined efforts to create the ShelbyvilleMultimedia.org website while Kim A. Snyder directed and produced “Welcome to Shelbyville” (executive produced by the BeCause Foundation, in association with Active Voice) which has grown into an hourlong documentary that will air on ITVS’ “Independent Lens” series on PBS on May 24.

You can see the webisodes, produced by Active Voice in association with the BeCause Foundation, on the Shelbyville Multimedia channel on Vimeo. If you’re an educator, activist or community organization that wants to engage on a deeper level and host some of the webisodes on your own site or blog and invite conversations about the stories, head to the webisode discussion questions page.

What are your impressions? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

‘Shelbyville’: Stories about immigrant integration

Welcoming America is an umbrella organization that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born residents.

The Shelbyville project is a series of stories about immigrant integration. One of Active Voice’s objectives was to introduce people to Welcoming America, an umbrella organization that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born residents. It is overseeing “welcoming” initiatives in 14 states, including Welcoming Tennessee.

“They opened doors for us in Shelbyville and introduced us to other affiliates, who hosted community ‘sneak previews’ in October,” said Active Voice operations director Daniel Moretti.

Active Voice approached Irina Lee, the creator of First Person American, about working on a pilot based on the Welcoming Stories theme. The idea, Moretti said, was “to combine FPA’s aesthetic and authenticity with Active Voice’s need to attract user-contributed stories. We’re hoping to raise funds to keep going, to both send Irina to other cities, and to commission other artists to create new Welcoming Stories formats.”

You can see some of the Welcoming Stories on the Tumblr site created by Active Voice and Free Range.

The tone of the two sites is positive and uplifting. As Moretti told us: “We didn’t want to build an advocacy site but a site to help people take the next step by providing options for different levels of engagement.”

While the project took a lens to the issue of immigration in rural Shelbyville, Tenn., Moretti pointed out: “We’re media strategists, not immigrant integration specialists. We had a feeling that what was going on in Shelbyville would resonate with people in small towns and large cities across the country, and we’re eager to help them connect to these issues in a human and nuanced way. But Welcoming America is doing this important work for the long haul, and we hope the website will be a great vehicle for them.”

The story-driven Web platform that Active Voice and Free Range developed, then, is not just to showcase webisodes, parts of a documentary or even the story of Shelbyville. Active Voice sees it as an early pilot of how other communities can tell their stories in a deep, meaningful but easy and lightweight way, with the focus on individuals’ stories rather than forcing users to wade through a complex backstory. Continue reading