Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Telling Stories: Audio Documentaries Now Available for Streaming

Latest tracks by UniversityYMCA

"Telling Stories" is a new oral history project that is beginning to unravel and explore the rich history of the University YMCA. We're also preserving current history by recording interviews with current Y members, such as student leaders, donors, and staff.

The first three Telling Stories episodes are now available on SoundCloud and can be live streamed, downloaded, and shared easily:

Jenni Kotting, the new Communications Director at the Y, has begun this process of interviewing, editing, and arranging the stories. She has a strong background in sound design, ethnography, and oral history. She says, "When I was hired, I wanted to bring my passion for oral history and archives to the table. I never imagined there would be so many stories to tell, and I've never had so much fun editing down a 90 minute interview into a 15 minute episode." Although she complains that her equipment isn't capable of recording at a professional level, she's happy with the way the stories have come together and proud of the students who shared so deeply during their interviews.

Currently available episodes include:

Martha Webber
Alternative Spring Break Volunteer and Graduate Student
Martha Webber, against some major odds, has become both a seminal academic and devoted volunteer. She is the storyteller here, and it’s fitting because that’s her passion as a grad student. Her dissertation is an ethnographic and auto-ethnographic narrative which she describes in detail. Martha came to the Y almost as soon as she came to the University for her grad program. She became co-leader of Alternative Spring Break and her interests shifted both academically and personally towards service learning and civic engagement.

Andrea Rosales
La Colectiva Volunteer and Blogger for Undocumented Rights
Andrea didn’t discover she was undocumented until she was in high school when she had to decline a work study position to which she’d been accepted. From that point on, she was on an emotional roller coaster. She felt alone and helpless... until she began to connect with the larger undocumented community through forums and blogging. Now she’s an activist with Y Student Group, La Colectiva. This group of 18 students has put in over 2000 volunteer hours in the past year alone, for which they received the Y’s Outstanding Student Group of the Year Award. Quickly, Andrea became a big part of La Colectiva’s educational outreach, organizing, and action aimed at changing state and national legislation.

Kenny Long
Engineers Without Borders Volunteer and Student Board Member
Kenny Long is a leader in Engineers without Borders, and a new student board of governors member. When he came to the University of Illinois, his family in Texas couldn’t believe how far from home he would be. Soon enough, his involvement with the Y would take him even farther... to Africa. Kenny arrived to the village of Ntisaw with other student engineers. You can hear in his voice the affection and respect he developed for the place. He especially admires the way politics and religion played out while the water system was being planned. Listening to Kenny, you can understand why he got attached to Ntisaw. The people, as a community, worked so hard to get fresh water. They saved an improbable amount of money. And when everything went wrong, they did it all over again.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

EXILE & UTOPIA: Aaron Johnson-Ortiz shows his work

On Saturday, July 9, 2011, Aaron Johnson-Ortiz shared his work with local friends at his open studio in his home. Aaron is the Y's Community Engagement Coordinator through AmeriCorps, but is also a photographer, artist, and is working on an accompanying creative non-fiction novel to this exhibit.

He describes "Exile & Utopia" as:
...a semi-fictional illustrated novel that traces the journey of a group of exiled Mexican journalists in the early twentieth century. The journalists escape repression through the American South and Midwest, connect with local organizers in St. Louis, Missouri, flee to Canada on the railroad through Champaign, and attempt to launch an ultimately failed revolution in Mexico from El Paso, Texas.  A century later, "Exile & Utopia" retraces this failed precursor of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 with photographs of the erased historic sites where the group hid and worked, a narrative based on intercepted correspondence and private detective notes, and abstract drawings that chart the growth and constriction of the movement. 

His home exhibition was an extension of his persona in a way that normal gallery shows can't accomplish, lending a realness and visceral quality to the body of black and white artwork. Trees and a brick chimney were the only visible color against the walls of the room, and that only appearing as a backdrop through glass windows. The painted walls and floor had a nonchalant, white-washed effect that framed each printed work with age, texture, and grace. The black line drawings over many-veined city and railroad maps were mitochondrial and organic while also displaying the type of entrapment that was clear in the text of the art's direct political message. The large-scale photograph prints were grainy like newsprint, interspersed with the hand drawn maps. The works were numbered so any viewer might experience the flow of artworks much as Aaron experienced the journey along the same path as the journalists he trailed. Even if viewers of the exhibit were three times removed from the original event, there was just as much a sense of primary source, gritty voyeurism (through photographs of the locations where the journalists lived or died) as abstract sense of a larger voyage in which anyone can participate by walking, watching, or simply being surrounded in that white room. I can't wait to read the book.

Aaron grew up shuttling between southern Mexico, where he worked as a volunteer artist with Zapatista cooperatives, and the American Midwest, where he participates in immigrant rights' movements.  His work retracing the exiled precursors of the Mexican Revolution in the United States was born of a desire to retell and reactivate the long but erased history of solidarity and common struggle between the two regions.

At the Y, he works with student groups like La Colectiva to support immigrant and undocumented rights. Among many other projects and workshops, he has organized ACT LAB (Activist Laboratory), a pilot program held in the spring semester of 2011 that introduced emerging student leaders to methodologies and traditions of activism. ACT LAB workshops emphasized interactivity rather than lecturing, and engaged students in a wide range of social justice and environmental issues. He has also organized and arrange the Immigrant Helpline (217-417-5897) to assist local Spanish-speaking immigrant with translation and help finding resources. 

A Flickr photoset of Aaron's open studio show is available here.