The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) recently announced the launch of Open Air, a new initiative intended to deepen audience engagement and diversity and to broaden the reach and variety of local programming – through original web-only and broadcast material, as well as live events. The station hopes to partner with the local arts community to produce collaboratively created, sometimes crowd-sourced original content. The public television station currently broadcasts on four channels: tpt-channel 2 (our main PBS station), tpt-MN (Minnesota-centric programming), tpt-LIFE (home and lifestyle programming), and tpt WX (devoted to regional weather coverage). By way of Open Air, tpt specifically aims to create and distribute programming that will better integrate online, offline and broadcast offerings to suit the omnivorous, cross-platform ways 21st-century audiences consume media.
To that end, tpt has dedicated a team of staffers especially to the cultivation of the Open Air initiative. Those organizers have already laid the groundwork for collaborative development of programming with artists and other cultural leaders in the Twin Cities. Those local partners currently include: MPLS.TV, Eat for Equity, Permanent Art & Design Group, mnartists.org (full disclosure: I've participated in some of these conversations in my capacity as editor for mnartists.org), Soo Visual Arts Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), the Soap Factory and mplsart.com.
What’s more, the Open Air team has landed a substantial publicly funded grant to bring this ambitious agenda to fruition. According to a recent tpt press release, “The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded Open Air a $75,000 grant for its upcoming artist-curated television channel, ‘TV Takeover.’ Open Air has also lined up a partnership with PBS Digital Studios to produce an original web series called ‘Are You MN Enough?’ and has a variety of events, partnerships and collaborations in the works for summer and beyond.”
In addition to “TV Takeover,” they're already experimenting with live events including a recent Q&A with Brother Ali for the studio audience present at his taped performance for an episode of MN Original’s recent music special, "The Lowertown Line." Coming right up, the night of June 8 for Northern Spark, tpt’s St. Paul-based Studio A will be open to the public and part of an interactive art installation featuring archival footage aiming to bring local history to life: "Ghosts of the Twin Cities."
A crowd-sourced word cloud about the constitution projected on stage at "Red, White and Brew." Pictured at far right: Theater of Public Policy founder and director Tane Danger (middle) with panelists Eric Black (left) and Alisa Rosenthal (right). Photo courtesy of Open Air
Last week, I attended another Open Air event, this one at St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar and Hall: “Red, White and Brew: Let’s Drink to the Constitution” – a charming evening of painless edification and light entertainment about the present and future relevance of our nation’s fundamental governing document. There’s a promotional tie-in, but it was unobtrusive: the event was peppered with a few clips from an affiliated documentary tpt produced, nationally broadcast this month by PBS, “Constitution USA” with Peter Sagal. Presented in partnership with the Theater of Public Policy, the evening featured fun facts about American history and thoughtful, if light-hearted Q&A with constitutional experts – MinnPost.com political columnist Eric Black and Gustavus Adolphus poli-sci professor Alisa Rosenthal. After the more serious back-and-forth, Theater of Public Policy’s improv troupe offered constitutional commentary of their own, creating sketches on the spot based around conversation and ideas raised by the panel of experts.
It’s a welcome thing to see tpt venture beyond the safe zones of kids’ shows and programming geared primarily to the 65-plus crowd --and it's particularly smart that they're doing so with an eye toward weaving new media, events and community collaborations into their fresh broadcast work. Developing cross-platform initiatives like Open Air isn't just a good idea, such innovation is necessary if public television is to be a relevant media force going forward. I’ll be interested to tune in and see where this new endeavor takes them.
To keep track of the latest offerings and opportunities from Twin Cities Public Television’s Open Air initiative, visit them online: http://openair.tpt.org/. (There’s just a splash page here at the moment, but staff tell me much more is on the way soon.)