As we prepare for our first in-person gathering since the pandemic began, the Media Impact Forum at the National Geographic Society on June 1, we have been thinking back to the last time we got together in person for our Forum—titled Radio Active Culture—in May 2019, at the American Philosophical Society, here in Philadelphia. In that program we explored the power of local radio to nurture cultural expression and build community, along with broader efforts of cultural organizations to use digital media to deliver content and programs.
In one of our sessions from 2019, Valerie Gay and her colleagues from the Barnes Foundation demonstrated how they used digital media and virtual reality goggles to recreate the experience of visiting the museum in person, for members of the community who had never gone before. That presentation was prescient, a glimpse of what was about to happen to many more cultural organizations across the country and around the world. During the pandemic, more and more cultural organizations had to quickly pivot to digital services to deliver their cultural experiences for homebound audiences.
We’ve had a lot of reminders of the 2019 Forum program in recent weeks here in Philadelphia.
Earlier this month, Media Impact Funders took a field trip to catch the Kimmel Center debut of Arnetta Johnson, the brilliant young trumpeter who performed and spoke at our 2019 Forum. For most of us, Arnetta’s performance was the first time we were back in a theater for a live concert. And it was invigorating to experience the energy of a dynamic artist and the shared experience of an audience who loves her. We all had goosebumps as Arnetta weaved her cool trumpet and pulsing music with dancers on stage and illuminating video above. We first heard about this performance because it was highlighted on local jazz radio, WRTI.
On the same weekend, WXPN, the nation’s leading public radio station focused on musical discovery, hosted a remarkable festival—the Kanaval Ball—that was the culmination of a year-long celebration of the musical bonds of New Orleans and the island nation of Haiti, supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional funding from the Wyncote Foundation.
Participants at our 2019 Forum may recall the general managers of WRTI and WXPN, William Johnson and Roger LaMay respectively, as they explained how they sought to be not just musical entertainment for their audiences, but true community builders in the Philadelphia region and beyond. One of the ways that both stations sought to play that role is by hosting musical performances that are delivered to audiences on the NPR Music Live Sessions platform, which was under development at that time.
Subsequent to that conference, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has gotten behind an innovative new collaborative project to strengthen the field of jazz radio in America, in grants to a select group of leading public radio stations, including WRTI. As the foundation said in its press release announcing the program, “The Jazz Media Lab program will also provide these stations with a peer network, support system and contracted resource team for exploring and advancing strategies to diversify their listening bases, invest in new media platforms, engage with venues and community organizations, and establish meaningful relationships with jazz artists.”
With every terrible thing happening in the world, war in Ukraine, continuing surges of the COVID pandemic and many other strains, it can be depressing to think about the future. But our friend Val Gay (the multi-talented deputy director of audience experience at the Barnes Foundation is also an accomplished singer in many genres) has an antidote. This week, the WRTI Jazz Video of The Week is Val Gay and the Ever Ensemble performing “Can We Change The World?”
Yes we can.