Public access television may call to mind mind-numbing meeting broadcasts and the antics of Jim Spagg for Portland audiences. But Open Signal, a new media arts center sprung from the 35-year-old Portland Community Media, is looking to change all that.
The newly rebranded center—complete with a complete renovation of its Northeast building—aims to build on Portland Community Media's legacy, with access to technology for TV broadcasts, art installations, animation, digital media production, and more, alongside classes in media production and creation, all in a space that also serves as an art gallery and gathering point.
“We’re bringing creativity to the forefront of the organization,” says Open Signal’s executive director Justen Harn, former director of programs and community engagement at the Hollywood Theatre. “We’re inviting artists, technologists, creative folks, activists, experimental artists, and the like to help us to inform how we can leverage technology, regardless of the discipline or medium, in order to bring people together and to drive social impact.”
Social impact is at the core of Open Signal, says Harn, as the original emphasis on television is replaced with a multidisciplinary approach to media and expression. “We’ve moved away from this idea that TV is the be-all, end-all,” he says. “We’re incubating new ideas around civic engagement, how to use technology to ensure that folks have a way to plug in and engage in what is going on in regional and national politics—so that folks have access to the technology that allows them to connect with the world around them, to express themselves, to be a part of the conversation where they may be left out otherwise.”
Open Signal has already announced its first artist-in-residence in partnership with the Regional Arts & Culture Council, Kalimah Abioto. Using Open Signal equipment and resources, Abioto created an experimental film that will be debuted on Thursday, March 2, on the north exterior wall of RACC’s downtown offices. The work in progress will also be shared at Open Signal’s first Open House this Saturday, February 25, as part of a free, all-ages pizza party that culminates in a live broadcast dance party with DJ Callie Danger.
Open Signal also has school partnerships in the works, as well as a New Media Fellowship, a monthly public art series, a mobile podcast and storytelling studio called STREAM PDX, and a plan to make all cable content available online. For Harn, who's joined by a team that includes Andre Middleton as director of equity and digital inclusion, the goal of the center is clear: “If a year from now we have a vibrant, multicultural safe space in the heart of downtown that is preserved for artists and makers to tell stories of personal cultural and social relevance, that create impact, I would be extremely happy.”