Podcasting is on the rise. Over 700,000 podcasts are available in iTunes with an estimated 90 million monthly listeners globally. No single entity controls podcasts, which means they are an accessible, decentralized, and democratized way to create content. Today, on-demand audio has dramatically transformed the way important stories and unheard voices reach us.
At PRX, we believe in the power of audio storytelling. New ways of telling stories, like podcasting, can build empathy, change minds and transform communities. Through our work at the PRX Podcast Garage, we are offering tools, training and space for people who want to work in this medium—regardless of age, technical background, or media experience. When we began our journey (with early funding from the Barr Foundation), we had an empty renovated auto body shop on Western Avenue in Allston – the PRX Podcast Garage—and an ambitious vision to transform it into a hub of community and creativity for media makers in Boston.
The Podcast Garage is now a thriving community space where hobbyists and professionals come to refine their craft, master new technologies, and create the most meaningful work they can. In 2018, we hosted over 100 classes and events with thousands of people coming through our doors. This year, PRX worked with Google to open our doors to global podcasters representing perspectives from the Philippines, Chile, Nairobi, and beyond.
It was clear to us we needed to not only build training and resources to serve the local community in Allston, but we also needed to incorporate a larger network strategy to replicate, scale, and take on the road. The desired outcome: to radically expand access to podcasting and change the face of the medium, by providing access and training, starting right here in Boston. So we set out to create a podcast training program just as accessible and decentralized as the medium of podcasting itself.
First, we collaborated with ReveledUp on a rigorous six-month process of community asset mapping. We looked for mission-aligned organizations that had the capacity and desire to learn more about how podcasting could be a platform to elevate stories within their communities. During that process, we met incredible organizations that we can work with on our path towards accessibility and representation.
Access in Action
Our facility in Allston, while open to all, is not easily reachable by all. To expand our reach into other parts of the city, we saw a model in GrubStreet – an organization that works with artists in a different medium, with a similar mission. We met with staff at GrubStreet to learn from their experiences creating access points for writers across the city. Following their lead, we’re offering classes at Boston Public Library branches and developing online courses for podcasters in Boston and beyond.
Working in library branches across the city raises a different set of questions: How do we keep our training consistent across spaces? What does staffing and teaching look like outside of our Allston facility? How do we find participants in new neighborhoods and provide venues to share their stories?
To start, we created a curriculum, instructor guides, and media resources so that we could bring the same high-quality experiences to participants all over the city. We also selected a partner organization in each neighborhood—identified during our community asset mapping—to help us do outreach and integrate their programs. For our pilot in East Boston and Codman Square, these partners are Zumix, an East Boston-based organization offering award-winning youth programming in music and creative technology, and Boston Ujima Project, a Dorchester-based collective to organize and strengthen low-income communities and communities of color.
Simply put: we want the stories being recorded, performed, and amplified at the Podcast Garage to reflect all residents of Boston. This means gathering members of local organizations, asking them key questions about their needs, and then listening closely. It also means going to meet people where they are, in places where they are already telling stories, and informing them about our space, what we offer, and where they can find us.
An illustration of that work is our partnership with Futuro Media on the Community Podcast Lab, where a group of women of color ranging in age from 22 to 70 came from neighborhoods across Boston to learn the art of audio storytelling through podcasting. The tagline for this project was: “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”
From the Pao Arts Center in Chinatown, we also heard a distinct need for support in storytelling around important issues facing the community like immigration and gentrification. The staff there had heard these issues echoed in conversations with the owners of Dudley Cafe, a community gathering space in Roxbury. From these conversations, we developed an ongoing series, “Personal Storytelling for Social Change” – connecting participants from the Dorchester, Roxbury, and Chinatown neighborhoods. After a free four-week training, the stories told by participants were performed live and recorded. We’re already planning to offer the popular series again this fall in other languages.
Boston needs more spaces where we can come together to make meaning of what is happening in the world and in our lives. There are far too many voices unheard in our local and national conversations. And, while the first PRX Podcast Garage was built in Boston, we’re now taking our garages national. PRX plans to launch a similar space in Washington D.C. in the coming months and in other locations in the coming years.
Register for a workshop, join us at an upcoming event in Boston, record in our studio, and stay tuned for our online classes coming soon. Our full calendar is available here. Please feel free to reach out to directly if you have an idea for a collaboration or you want to learn more about our vision for what’s ahead.
This piece originally appeared on the Barr Foundation’s blog.
Last month, we convened our annual Media Impact Forum, which focused on the role of radio and audio in creating and sustaining crucial connections with communities. One of our sessions featured Kerri Hoffman, PRX CEO, Kerry Donahue, PRX Director of Training, and San San Wong, Director of Arts & Creativity at the Barr Foundation. During the session, we heard about PRX’s new multi-tier podcast training program. Watch the session.