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Open Signal creates social change through media access for all

COURTESY: OPEN SIGNAL - Organizers hope the Open Signal/Portland Community Media building stays busy; an open house drew hundreds of people last weekend. (This photo depicts a building design plan to be put in place later in 2017).News flash: Taking photos, recording audio and shooting video are not just done on smartphones and such things are not just posted on social media sites and are not necessarily produced for instant gratification.

It's actually a profession and a craft and the enhanced facilities, equipment and engagement at Open Signal, an ambitious new nonprofit media arts center in Portland, has been set up to do all the teaching.

Open Signal, located at the Portland Community Media building at 2766 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., opened Feb. 14 and held its first open house last weekend — with people lined up trying to get inside to check out the scene.

Open Signal builds upon the legacy of Portland Community Media, a nonprofit formed 35 years ago, and has teamed with former staff from the Hollywood Theatre, including Justen Harn, and the Regional Arts & Culture Council. It has garnered financial support from the city of Portland via the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission. Open Signal's chances for success at reaching its goals of making creative and social impacts look promising.

COURTESY: OPEN SIGNAL - Justen Harn brought his expertise from Hollywood Theatre to the new venture Open Signal."To our knowledge it's the first fully operational media arts center for our region," says Harn, the executive director. "It was a long time coming. There's so much potential here at Open Signal and Portland Community Media.

"We're bringing creativity to the forefront that hasn't been there. It's building on what the incredible community media pioneers have done to establish the organization." The first year "will be a year of prototyping," Harn says.

Says Lisa Faust, Open Signal board president: "Cable access is still a core part of what we do. We have longtime producers and younger producers coming in. We're doing a lot of great stuff for education. We're really trying to engage a new community of what they can do with access at our center."

There'll be state-of-the-art media and production facilities, education and exhibitions to be available to the public for free or low cost. Open Signal plans to continue running PCM programming, including a media equipment library, production studio, classes for youth and artists and five cable channels (reaching 400,000 homes), as well as a socially engaged artist residence program (New Media Fellowship). It'll also be home to Stream PDX, a mobile podcast and storytelling studio first formed by popular event producers XOXO.

The cable channels offer government affairs (City Net 30), a showcase for creative type such as artists and filmmakers (Pulse of Portland), suburban happenings (Community Access Network) and public access. Open Signal is developing cable content for mid-2017.

COURTESY: OPEN SIGNAL - Open Signal builds on the Portland Community Media's accomplishments for 35 years.Harn says Open Signal aims to be inclusionary, reaching people who might not otherwise have access to production facilities and equipment.

"When I walked into the (building), I saw the huge potential," Harn says. " 'Why isn't this place full of hundreds of people?' "

It was full for the open house and "I was getting emotional, because this is what I imagined," Harn adds. "It's a multicultural safe space for folks from all walks of life, especially for people who will be empowered to tell their stories and have access to prevalent technology of the time. It ensures they have a voice."

Says Faust: "There was a digital divide, not just for creating content, like filmmaking, but we're really trying to still be a grounded community access center for all individuals who can benefit from knowing and being part of the technological world."

Producing televisions shows will be done by the book, he adds, with civic engagement, activism, real journalism with fact-checking, raising the level of content, being an advocate for change and driving transformation.

The building has undergone a paint job, and there'll be a mural program for designs on the west-facing side; a distinctive sculpture on the roof has been retained. Harn envisions Open Signal being an anchor for the community.

"Our timing couldn't be better," says Harn, hired in January 2016 to lead the nonprofit. "At this critical moment in American history, Open Signal convenes artists, educators, activists and local government. Together, through the power of media and free speech, we can catalyze dialogue, bridge divides and make meaningful social change."

For more: www.opensignalpdx.org.