On Wednesday evening, Andrew Hazlett (@andrewhazlett) and Kevin Griffin Moreno (@mobtownblues) piloted a new variety show podcast called SHOW Baltimore at the Wind-Up Space. Baltimore has a diverse ecosystem chock-full of talented, interesting people doing transformative work and Hazlett and Griffin Moreno want to broadcast their stories.
The first episode was an exercise in spontaneity. Hazlett and Griffin Moreno approached people during the dinner hour (delicious pizza from Joe Squared in Station North!) and asked if they would participate in the show for an impromptu interview. The format was a ten minute interview with Griffin Moreno and Hazlett, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. Live tweets (#ShowB) from Hazlett and the audience members added an interactive digital dimension to the show.
Christine Celise Johnson (@christinecelise), founder of DiversiTech (@iamdtech), graced the stage first. Celise Johnson spoke about the digital divide and her team's efforts to extend tech opportunities to minorities, specifically to the Black and Latino populations. It's no secret that Blacks and Latinos are severely misrepresented in the tech community, both in Baltimore and the country at large, but what's the ideal point of entry for breaking down the barriers? Celise Johnson suggested tapping into internship programs at local colleges such Coppin State and Morgan to knock down race barriers. Andrew Coy, a high school technology teacher in the audience, questioned the lack of after school opportunities for high school students interested in technology.
Megan Ihnen (@mezzoihnen) joined the stage next. Ihnen is a mezzo-soprano who performs with Peabody Opera and founded the Federal Hill Parlor Series. Eager for opportunities to perform, Ihnen noticed while walking around the neighborhood that many of the homes in Federal Hill house beautiful instruments and offered the perfect venue for small-scale concerts. The Parlor Series connects vocal artists with local homeowners who are interested in hosting either private or public concerts in their homes. The Parlor Series brings classical music to people at a low cost in a cozy environment. The goal is to have interesting collaborations with diverse audiences that one might not find at the Meyerhoff or Peabody. One recent event, "A Dickens Dinner," paired readings and songs from A Christmas Carol with a four course meal for a ticket price of $40. Ihnen sees the Parlor Series as a gateway for new musical experiences for younger audiences.
The next guest was Rodney Foxworth (@rdfoxworth), a writer, blogger, and cultural critic for the Baltimore Brew, which is currently trying to raise $15,000 on their Kickstarter campaign in order to expand their site and incorporate new content through podcasting. Specifically, Foxworth is looking at how Baltimore can "do things differently" than other cities. The Brew crew prides itself on long-form, investigative journalism. Foxworth cited Mark Reutter's work on campaign finance coverage as an exemplar of Brew journalism. When questioned about which story received inadequate press this year, Foxworth cited the missed opportunity to explore the disappointment over voter turn-out and political participation in this year's mayoral election. Griffin Moreno and Foxworth discussed the disconnect between political discourse on Twitter and the realities of voter activity, harkening back to the issue of the digital and cultural divides among Baltimoreans.
Andrey Coy (@andrewcoy) and I were invited to the stage to speak about topics in education. When Hazlett asked us why the problems of urban education persist despite decades of reform, Coy and I gave multi-pronged answers, which in itself might indicate the complexity of the problems. I entered the teaching profession because I observed an egregious misalignment between policy mandates and classroom realities. After several years teaching, I believe more than ever than teaching experience should be a pre-requisite for writing education policy. The complexity of the problems is an incomprehensible blur from 8,000 feet. Coy believes the problems are a direct result of the failure to make education relevant to urban youth. Advances in technology offer the ability to take learning outside the four walls of the classroom, but teachers, schools, and districts as a whole have been slow-moving to integrate both hardware and technological skills in the classroom and curriculum. For the third time in the evening, Coy and I discussed the details of the digital divide and the various projects on which we are working to creatively address these issues in education.
Lastly, J. Buck Jabaily (@open_theatre) took the stage. Jabaily moved to Baltimore to found Single Carrot Theatre, which is still thriving in Station North, and most recently served as the executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA). He recently announced his resignation at GBCA in tandem with the announcement of his newest venture, the Baltimore Open Theatre. Jabaily is partnering with Baltimore theatre veteran Philip Arnoult to found the Open Theatre, which will offer free and open access performances of theatre from around the world. Recognizing that high ticket prices make theatre prohibitively expensive to many people, Jabaily and Arnoult hope to increase access to theatre for Baltimore residents by making theatre free. Jabaily admits that he's paid upwards of $50 to see shows that he thought were awful. One expensive and unpleasant experience like this might be enough to turn someone off theatre forever. Without relying on ticket revenue, Open Theatre can focus less on marketing, and more on curating an interested, intentional audience and improving the post-show experience for that audience.
The digital divide theme emerged several times over the course of the night. Whether talking about access to hardware, technological skills, or the cultural divide that accompanies those issues, the digital divide is affecting all ages and industries. Elementary and middle schools are the ideal points of entry for intervention. If Baltimore City students don't have access to technology in their homes, schools are the next best places to implement programming that provide both access to technology and skills training. Another common theme for the night was access. Christine Celise Johnson, Andrew Coy, and I all discussed the problems associated with minorities' lack of access to skills and opportunities in technology, Megan Ihnen and Buck Jabaily talked about increasing access to classical musical and theatre, and Rodney Foxworth discussed the lack of access to the political discourse happening through digital mediums like Twitter and other web media.
The reality of the digital and cultural divides was visually apparent in the predominantly white crowd. Conversations are important, but to make them fruitful, we must couple conversation with action and outreach. These access barriers are entrenched in centuries of systemic and systematic racism and classism. Successful solutions will require diverse voices in the conversation, and all hands on deck.