Theme: Where’s Wayne’s World? A brief dive into the disappearing world of democratic and non-commercial television made possible by public access.
It all started about 12 years ago when I happened to catch a screening of Winnipeg Babysitter while studying in Syracuse, NY. The program was a compilation of clips from Public Access Television in Winnipeg, CA curated by artist Daniel Barrow. A description of the program that I found online should tell you all you need to know: “In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, Winnipeg experienced a ‘golden age’ of public access television whereby almost anyone with a creative dream was granted airtime and professional production services”.
Since then I have had a minor obsession with the subject of Public Access Television, which has led to a masters thesis in the preservation of this material. Much of this work–which was produced all over cities and towns across North America–is at risk of being lost forever. Turns out there isn’t any money in archiving non-commercial media, just like there isn’t any money in making it (which explains why so many stations are now gone). Until the problem of preservation is solved, Youtube (which, I feel compelled to emphasize, is not public and heavily monetized) is often the best and only resource for seeing this work, though often in terrible quality and without context.
Should Winnipeg Babysitter ever go on tour again, please catch it! Barrow’s work as both programmer and archivist is really loving and inspiring, and you will catch glimpses of lost treasures of television, such as Survival!, which aired from 1985-1987 and is linked below.
For the month of March, I ask you to think about what democratic media means in light of these questions: how has the industrialization and monetization of art and culture impacted us as a society? What systems of power determine what is “good” and who gets to be an “artist”? Who should be able to access the resources necessary to create art and media?