Vital Signs

Article excerpt

NATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR MEDIA ARTS AND CULTURE CONFERENCE

AUSTIN, TEXAS

OCTOBER 17-20, 2007

"The Frontier is Here," the most recent convening of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) in the borderland of Austin, Texas, was predicated on exploring the innovations and evolutions currently affecting the digital, media, and visual arts. Conference organizers attempted to address such areas as education and training, youth media, copyright, virtual environments and the evolving interface, open source creation, cutting-edge time-based art, independent film, and using media and the visual arts to inspire activism.

Conference keynotes included a conversation with Austin-based film director Richard Linklater and engaging presentations by Jean Garner, a producer at Al Jazeera English, and Gary Chapman, director of The 21st Century Project, an organization based out of the University of Texas-Austin dedicated to expanding public participation in the development of new goals for science and technology policy in the post-Cold War era. Originating from a core concern that came out of the 2005 gathering in Philadelphia, the conference also showcased "innovative models of community collaborating that personify the current evolution" of media culture and visual arts.

A myriad of breakout sessions provided opportunities to learn about such issues as place-based media production; the rise of Latino media; finding and attracting new audiences; new voices in digital storytelling; the online distribution and exhibition market; copyright; and collaborations between artists, activists, and educators. Breakout sessions were organized into three distinct tracks: Create (exploring how new technologies are employed); Engage (focusing on how new technologies are addressed in terms of distribution and exhibition); and, the focus for this attendee, Act (looking at how technologies are being used in education and activism and popular engagement).

A media literacy roundtable facilitated by Kathleen Tyner of UT-Austin focused on media organizations working with youth and gave several emerging administrators and programmers an opportunity to share their experience and enthusiasm. While working in the schools, Cynthia Carrion of Manhattan Neighborhood Network realized that most youth do not recognize the extent of the media in their lives. She spoke of being determined to get young people to think about themselves as participants, and to acknowledge their empowerment within the process. Deborah Leveranz, an arts and media consultant and teacher, also pointed out the importance of helping to foster critical thinkers and autonomous citizens. Reah Mokund, executive director of Listen Up!, concurred, speaking of the possibility of youth becoming informed users and citizens who understand their place and "how to transform space and place."

During the panel "Popular Aesthetics: Using Hooks, Populism and Engagement," videomaker Frank Lopez highlighted the ubiquitous struggle of fulfilling one's artistic intentions while addressing important social justice issues. …