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Making Media at In Progress – Erica’s story

A group of students stand in front of a white curved wall, with a round table in front. Large lights hang from a grid in the ceiling overhead.

Erica Beebe is a University of Minnesota student enrolled in HECUA’s Making Media, Making Change program. She is an English major, with a double minor in Creative Writing and Studies in Cinema and Media Culture. Erica will graduate in December of 2016. She’s spending her second-to-last semester with HECUA, making films, learning editing techniques, and thinking about creative potential and community spaces. Erica was kind enough to share her take on a recent MMMC field visit to local media organization In Progress. Read her thoughts below.

On February 15, my “Making Media, Making Change” class visited In Progress, a non-profit art and media organization that fosters the creative potential of community members by offering a supportive, educative, open space within the community. In Progress is expansive, and includes programs across the state and greater Midwest. The site of our HECUA visit, located in Saint Paul, acts as a home base for the organization and its Executive Director, Kris Sorenson. For Kris, this space is not only a place of work; it is home sweet home. The upstairs quarters of In Progress are occupied by Kris and her two dainty cats.

In taking us to In Progress, the “Making Media, Making Change” instructors, Erin Walsh and Molly Van Avery, wanted to show our class possible paths we could take after graduation, from heading our own nonprofits to working as film instructors. In Progress employs a range of talented and passionate professionals, some of whom are former “Making Media, Making Change” students.

In Progress Director Kris Sorenson with MMMC students. 

From the very beginning, In Progress felt like a place we could nestle into. Upon arrival, my classmates and I were instructed to remove our shoes and make ourselves comfortable. As Kris gave us a tour of the building, it became apparent that In Progress is a space where artists can build community. The conference room, for example, is sometimes converted into a sleepover room where young artists will snack and watch movies on the weekend. In the music studio, two talented musicians shared with us the tracks they created on their day off from school. Though we were practically strangers, the musicians didn’t hesitate to share their beautiful, vulnerable work with us. Upon entering In Progress, we were immediately and irrevocably welcome.

An In Progress artist sharing work with MMMC students. 

This welcoming environment is exactly what Sorenson hoped to create by moving In Progress to its current building. Their old space, which was located in a more commercial area of Saint Paul, didn’t have the right circumstances for community-building. According to Kris, In Progress’ former neighbors didn’t see the young artists as artists: “They were seen as those kids.” The youth who are involved with In Progress, as members of minority groups, are at risk for discrimination due to their race, cultural background, or disability statuses.

In the “Making Media, Making Change” classroom, we’ve been learning about the different types of stories that exist in media. We’ve learned that one of the most prominent types of story is the “stock story”; a story that is told by voices of power in order to maintain the status quo. An example of a stock story would be “John Smith started with nothing, worked hard, and became a billionaire.” This “American Dream” stock story permeates our culture, and propagates the notion that anyone who is unable to attain success is simply lazy.

 

Students chat with In Progress artists. 

As artists, we are given the chance to tell our own stories; to rise above the stock stories and give a picture of just how complex and multifaceted the truth can be. At In Progress, artists are also given the chance to overcome stock stories that may have haunted them in the past. Sorenson has created a space where each artist can enter without being labeled or misconstrued. “I’m not a fan of icebreakers because I think they’re a false start,” Kris told our HECUA class. “Instead, we ask them, ‘hi, how are you? Who are you?’”

 

Like In Progress, the “Making Media, Making Change” classroom acts as a judgment-free creative home. Both In Progress and the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (where the “Making Media, Making Change” program is housed) are located in buildings with plenty of light and open space. Visitors are free to walk the halls, peek into the studios where creation is happening, and share meals with the artists and workers who are based in that space. From the minute I walked into SPNN’s doors, I’ve known that I’ve found a community that will always open its doors to me. Like In Progress, the HECUA program provides a space for young artists to be brave and scream their truths in the form of the stories they tell, the connections they make, and the films they create.

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