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Nancy Chang on Reel Grrls and Arts Education

Feature | April 10, 2019 | By Jonathan Shipley

Nancy Chang is the executive director of Reel Grrls. Encore sat down with her recently to discuss arts education, culture shifts and the Twin Peaks reboot.

 

Photo of Reel Grrls’ Tapestry 360 camp (2018). High-angle image of teenage girls doing group paper work on the floor of a sunny room.

Reel Grrls’ Tapestry 360 camp (2018). Photo courtesy of Reel Grrls.

 

Reel Grrls believes that youth voice and media representation matter. Since 2001, Reel Grrls has been a community driven non-profit that centers on grrls (they use “rr” to be inclusive of gender non-conforming youth). The organization supports them on their path as they transition into young adults by equipping them with social justice values, media literacy skills and access to mentors and tools to create media that matters to them. Reel Grrls helps them find their path as professional media makers. The organization does this through three tracks: teaching traditional film, web content and immersive technology.

Encore: How did you get involved in Reel Grrls? 

NC: In 2014 I learned there was an opportunity at Reel Grrls to reflect on the organization’s 14-plus years of pioneering work in advancing womxn media makers—that “x” signifies the inclusion of gender non-conforming people—I was attracted to the work of reflecting for an organization that had been trailblazing. Reel Grrls started before YouTube and mobile devices—these major disruptors are opening a whole can of worms of impact to our collective humanity and we have all just been along for the ride. With that, keeping Reel Grrls open and viable the last four years has been a challenge in a rapidly changing city. It is hard for those not making tech salaries to survive, let alone a small scrappy feminist media organization. 

What does Reel Grrls offer that other media production classes/courses don’t? 

I have learned from young filmmakers who have taken other courses from other organizations that Reel Grrls goes beyond providing the technical instruction. Our program team cares about the student as a whole. We offer a community, we talk about values and social justice—these conversations just aren’t happening in other technical programs. Our grrls aren’t just wanting to learn skills to be a flawless technical film maker—they want to be creating content that is shifting culture and puts us all in touch with our humanity. 

Who have been some notable instructors at Reel Grrls?

Reel Grrls has had a variety of amazing people instruct. Lila Kitaeff was one of the first staff members and now they run KUOW’s RadioActive Program. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency worked with us on a vlogging workshop. Megan Griffiths and Lacey Leavitt are both Seattle film legends. Angela Bernardoni worked on the Twin Peaks reboot.  Documentarian Jill Freidberg is currently highlighting the gentrification in the Central Area with a community project called Shelf Life. Reel Grrls also worked with Tracy Rector to launch Longhouse Media and train Native youth.

Photo of Reel Grrls’ Tapestry 360 camp (2018). A photo of a diverse group of middle school girls, standing smiling before a wall with a THANK YOU Banner. One girl kneels in a celebratory pose.

 Photo courtesy of Reel Grrls.

 

What have been some notable successes of work done by young womxn in the program? 

Wynter Rhys is 18 and working on her first full length. She is super talented and focuses on narrative suspense. Tani Ikeda, a former board member, started her own non-profit called imMEDIAte Justice and is making amazing music videos and documentaries. 

What are some of your favorite memories working at Reel Grrls? 

The memorable moments are tied to seeing the transformation of young people in our programs and how they continue to stay involved. We have two board members that are alums of the program—Julia Levy and Sarah Greenleaf. I have really enjoyed working with them and developing a stronger network for feminist media makers to be well supported.

Last February, I met up with alums in New York City. One of them, Ayanda Chisholm, told me that she really appreciated that Reel Grrls provided a feminist set to experience, because now as a freelancer she can see the difference in non-feminist sets. She let me know that she is focused on creating and working only on feminist sets. Ayanda busted my own personal doubts of focusing my work on creating safe learning spaces centered on grrls—because at the end of the day they have to go into the world of the Harvey Weinsteins. It has helped me to reframe my work and see our grrls as those that aren’t the ones needing saving, since we are teaching them the skills to be powerful when they do meet a Harvey—they know their value and can speak up and fight for themselves. 

What are you most looking forward to in 2019? 

In 2019 our team has grown and I am thrilled to go out into the community and talk about the amazing work we have been moving forward on with our partners, like our Learning Immersive Tech pilot program that addresses the need for low-income students of color in Seattle and South King County to gain equitable access to STEM fields through arts education. Our state is investing in the creative economy and we want to make sure that we correct the lack of diversity amongst tech workers and provide youth of color, that are not traditionally represented in the field, a path to co-create with adults the future of their education, economic success and how we explore humanity through immersive tech.  

I am also looking forward to working with the new leadership on my board led by Jennifer King, of Microsoft Education; Emily Guillen, of the Henry Art Gallery; Elizabeth Mazé, of The Derschang Group; and Michael Herschensohn, of the Washington State Arts Alliance. 

How can someone help your organization? 

We currently are looking for people to help us move our ambitious year forward through board and committee service, event volunteers, community partners, clients, sponsors and donors. Yes, you can hire Reel Grrls Productions to produce your company or organization’s media production needs!

To learn more about Reel Grrls and how to get involved, visit reelgrrls.org.