As we come to the end of a brutal month for our country and for people around the world trying to defeat the spread of COVID-19, we have all had to devise ways to work and learn and entertain ourselves from the confines of our homes. And for many, that has elevated the importance of digital media and community information of all types. We rely on local journalism to help us navigate a dangerous pandemic with health and safety guidelines for our homes and neighborhoods. And we are also exploring the vast expanse of cultural content available.

Here at MIF (wherever that is), we are gearing up for our annual Media Impact Forum (June 9–25) and we are reminded of the rich array of cultural content we experienced at last year’s Media Impact Forum on the theme of Radio Active Culture. Indeed, many of the presentations at last year’s forum resonate deeply in our time of confinement. If you were not able to join us for last year’s program, you may find these discussions interesting in light of our current circumstances. Most of the program was captured on video and can be viewed on our Media Funders website or on YouTube.

One of the central points highlighted throughout the day was the vitality of local radio for communities and the critical role of philanthropy in sustaining this field. We heard from philanthropists and radio entrepreneurs Sara Lomax-Reese and Peter Buffett about the ways that both of them rooted their radio stations in the needs and voices of their particular communities. We heard from station managers Roger LaMay (WXPN) and Bill Johnson (WRTI) about the role of music radio here in Philadelphia and the growing role of music radio on the public radio dial across the nation.

We heard from young trumpet phenom Arnetta Johnson and veteran bassist Gerald Veasley, president of Jazz Philadelphia, about the continuing importance of radio in artist development and in helping working artists by bringing attention to live performance events throughout the community.

One of the projects we heard about that day is the new NPR Music Live Sessions video service, that presents music from public radio studios across the country. Built on the VuHaus platform, Live Sessions carries the popular Tiny Desk Concerts and many other performances from around the country. And like many media outlets, the Live Sessions service has seen a big increase in audience over the past month, as restless listeners stuck at home explore more and more content online. If you missed Arnetta Johnson in person with us, you can still hear her mod update of jazz on Live Sessions.

If there is one unfortunate recollection of the day, it is that we had a tremendous array of inspiring musical talent throughout the day, but the mics were all set to optimize the experience in the room and the sound was not great on the livestream or archival recording. So you’ll pretty much have to take our word for it,  aside from a couple of snatches that Lumina Foundation Strategy Director Kevin Corcoran captured that can be seen on our Twitter Moments feed.

We also heard about the critical role that public radio plays in promoting classical music education through the national radio program From the Top, with young flutist Laura Futamura and show host and pianist Peter Dugan. This is the one musical segment that we were able to capture well on recording. In addition to the interesting discussion between the two of them, they played lovely renditions of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and a thought-provoking performance of Human Family, based on a poem of the same name by Maya Angelou. A special treat for us was Libra Foundation president Crystal Hayling reading the poem before Laura and Peter played the music.

Radio was not the only cultural topic highlighted in our program. We also heard from Valerie Gay and colleagues from the Barnes Foundation, where they developed an innovative program to offer community residents a three dimensional virtual reality experience of the museum and its peerless collection of Impressionist art and much more. Now that every museum is quickly trying to create a virtual experience of their collection for its homebound audience, it is interesting to reflect upon the principles that the  Barnes team shared with us last year.

As philanthropy observer Sarah Lutman said in her essay for the Media Impact Forum program brochure, “Like every other field, the arts and culture sector faces new opportunities and new challenges as the unrelenting march toward our shared digital future progresses. Unless we are willing to cede digital platforms and programs solely to the commercial sector, there is a critical role for philanthropy in helping to build a shared cultural commons that is as diverse, as complex, and as penetrating as our nation’s multi-faceted, multicultural, and multi-dimensional forms of cultural expression and engagement.”

Her sentiment is only that much more true, now that we are forced to experience culture exclusively through broadcast and digital media, rather than live and in person.

Please feel free to connect with us here at info@mediafunders.org if you would care to explore further and connect with any of these programs. And happy listening!

About the Author
Vincent Stehle

Vincent Stehle

Executive Director

Before joining Media Impact Funders in 2011 as executive director, Vince was program director for Nonprofit Sector Support at the Surdna Foundation, a family foundation based in New York City. Prior to joining Surdna, Stehle worked for 10 years as a reporter for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, where he covered a broad range of issues about the nonprofit sector. Stehle has served as chairperson of Philanthropy New York and on the governing boards of VolunteerMatch and the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). Currently, he serves on the board of directors of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.