Update from the Field: Youth Media, NAMAC & the Creative Youth Development Movement

In August 2014, over forty youth media practitioners, leaders and stakeholders gathered at the National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture (NAMAC)/Alliance for Community Media (ACM) Joint Conference in Philadelphia. The premise of this gathering –sponsored by Youth Media Reporter – was that there is now, as there has always been, a need for network building, resource sharing, and the nurturing of collective power around challenges and opportunities in youth media practices across the country.


Attendees represented manifold perspectives; they were teaching artists, youth media alumni, local and national funders, public school educators, nonprofit leaders, academics, researchers, activists and more. Guided by the facilitation of Jason Wyman, participants were asked to identify needs and visualize multi-stakeholder solutions pertaining to, for example, exhibition and distribution strategies, the infrastructure of a National Youth Media Network, youth and adult partnerships, funding, and other such critical matters. A full list of areas of focus and proposed visions can be found here: https://titanpad.com/youthmediameetings

The discussions at this convening were richly textured and rife with possibility; each idea warrants its own in-depth engagement. If, however, we were to distill the five-hour, intensive into a central question, it might be: how do we organize to optimize the power and potential of youth media work?


In that regard, it may be helpful to consider the national conversations emerging within multidisciplinary youth arts organizations. Last March over 200 representatives from community based organizations across the country that serve young people in the arts, humanities, and sciences gathered in Boston to finalize a policy agenda and develop key strategies to advance the work of what is now being termed the Creative Youth Development field in an effort to support the creative and intellectual development of the young people in our communities. The Creative Youth Development Summit was informed by research conducted throughout the fall of 2013 by Lauren Stevenson and Junction Box Consulting in Oakland, California.

The Summit was hosted by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) and presented in partnership with the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH) and the National Guild for Community Arts Education (NGCAE) as a celebration of MCC’s 20th anniversary of Youth Reach, its grant program that supports out-of-school-time programs that help young people develop creatively and intellectually and in turn prepares them for future success. More information about the Summit can be found online at: http://creativeyouthsummit.org/index.html.


Since the March 2014 Summit and the creation of the National Policy Agenda for Creative Youth Development, key stakeholders have gathered to further discuss the work and continue to move the dial forward. One such gathering was the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s annual conference in Los Angeles in November. A pre-conference and several round table sessions were held to discuss this work and what should be done to continue to advance the agenda.  In December, the CYD partners once again met to discuss how this work is going to continue and who is going to take the lead. The results of that meeting have yet to be released.

20140806_140751Regardless of who or how this work is going to get done, the CYD movement is a growing national effort to elevate very similar work that so many of us in youth media have been doing for years; yet, our two groups are largely disconnected. The CYD policy agenda is rooted in strategies around youth leadership, cross-sector collaboration, sustainable funding models, and communicating impact on a broad scale – much of the same strategies that youth media organizations have been employing for years. While there is no doubt overlap in the numbers, if you combine 200 organizations with the nearly 100 within youth media, we are significantly impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people across the country!

So what now? Over the past year, NAMAC has had a leadership change and their new Executive Director Wendy Levy has been working tirelessly to reshape, rethink, and retool the organization to meet the needs of a growing community of independent media artists and organizations across the country, including those within the youth media field. NAMAC is now ready to help pick up the conversation where it left off after the conference in 2014. NAMAC, led by Wendy Levy, facilitated a conversation amongst the field on March 9, 2015, including over 40 youth media leaders. This 90-minute virtual roundtable focused on strategies for convening, growing and sustaining youth media organizations, along with the best ways to collaborate for collective impact in our communities. All are welcome to view the roundtable conversation:

Next steps would also need to include or integrate intermediary organizations with whom the work of youth media intersects: YMR, NAMAC, ACM, the NGCAE, NAMLE, and/or others. As a network, we can identify priorities – as we did in the NAMAC pre-conference – and align with strategic partners to communicate, collaborate and leverage each other’s work. 

As we saw in the aftermath of the NAMAC pre-conference, an agenda-setting and implementation effort requires capacity. While support from YMR and NAMAC were essential to the National Youth Media Network’s administration over the last two years, we have largely operated on minimal resources and immense volunteer energy. In this context, we proved our power in numbers: we were in consistent and enthusiastic communication; we hosted a series of online conversations (guided by priorities expressed within the Network); we organized several conference presentations; we hosted a national youth media contest in partnership with high-profile partners like the DoGooder Awards; and we grew the Network from 30 youth media practitioners and organizations to well over 100.

We’ve seen through examples such as the Open Society Youth Media Initiative, what sustained operational support can do for cohering the field.  We have so far effectively and repeatedly demonstrated our commitment to work collectively with minimal support to elevate the youth voice and perspective on a national level and to help nourish and support this growing field. In order to keep growing and to implement the visionary and mutually reinforcing ideas that were discussed at the NAMAC Conference or that are discussed in this new issue of YMR, we need to work together to ensure that this grassroots effort to connect, share and learn with and through one another, has a solid foundation and steady administrative support going forward.

Stronger Together: Why We Need a National Youth Media Network

Since its inception three decades ago, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) serves as a facilitator of, and supporting mechanism for the work of the independent media arts. Through collaboration and dialogue with our national community of members, we design programming that fosters and fortifies the field and provides space for independent voices and diverse perspectives to flourish.

We serve our members and the media arts field through: a) conducting and disseminating field-specific research and analysis; b) convening the field in-person and online; c) offering leadership development and other opportunities for professional growth; d) advocating on behalf of the field in Congress and in partnership with leading advocacy organizations.

NAMAC’s Strategic Plan for the next three years calls for increased attention to supporting our youth media members. Over the past year, we have had the great pleasure and privilege of working with a committed – and growing! – group of youth media leaders around the country. We’ve been actively supporting this group’s efforts to lay the foundation for a strong national network that is designed by, and responsive to, youth media’s needs and principles.

Our collaboration with this emerging network builds on NAMAC’s history of involvement with youth media organizations, from the early days of publishing the Youth Media Directory in the 1990s, to the Youth Media Initiative we spearheaded that provided professional development and capacity support to leaders and organizations in the sector. This Initiative helped spur a survey of youth media organizations nationwide, for which we continue to gather data in an effort to draw longitudinal conclusions. The last iteration of this Mapping the Youth Media Field survey was administered in June 2013 by Kathleen Tyner, Associate Professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. 1 A preliminary overview of the results from this data can be found on the NAMAC website. 2 and Professor Tyner will release a more detailed analysis over the coming months.

Why A National Network?

When NAMAC, as a field-service organization, scans and surveys the youth media sector, in many ways the field looks as it did in 2009 when representatives from youth media organizations gathered at the National Youth Media Summit, a dynamic conversation that led to the influential report, State of the Youth Media Field. 3

As both the 2009 report and the 2013 Mapping the Youth Media Field survey demonstrate, youth media organizations around the country teach an impressive array of media production skills – video, mobile apps, graphic design, audio / music, social media, games, and more – and as in 2009, youth media organizations continue to provide unique services and learning that students may not otherwise have access to in formal school settings.

While the youth media community and its supporters clearly appreciate the indispensable work happening in the sector, the question yet remains as to how youth media can make more visible – to parents, funders, and stakeholders– its educational, social, and professional impact on young people’s lives, and by extension, on a participatory, democratic society.

This is not, of course, to say that youth media is invisible. In fact, the 2009 Summit and State of the Field report, as well as more recent developments, demonstrate that the field is a waking giant. In 2012, The Chicago Youth Voices Network, a collaborative of youth media professionals embarked on an evaluation process funded by The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and supported by the Social IMPACT Research Center. Their study will assess the degree to which hands-on education in media production and distribution contributes to developing productive, independent, and engaged citizens. Then, in 2013, The Wallace Foundation released two extensive publications that lauded the educational gains made in interest-driven and effective after school programs. Featured in these reports were youth media groups such as Spy Hop Productions (Salt Lake City, Utah), Educational Video Center (New York City), the Bay Area Video Coalition (San Francisco, CA), Youth Radio (Oakland, CA), and the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network (National and International).

We can and should also look to the fact that this brief article will be among the body of work that will re-launch Youth Media Reporter as a catalytic voice for the field. As such, Youth Media Reporter will be primed to both discover and share innovative and important developments gleaned from an ever-expanding community of youth media practitioners, educators, researchers, administrators and youth. At the same time, Youth Media Reporter can be a space for thinking through how to share the field’s essential work with new audiences and potential allies across a variety of disciplines.

Unfortunately, while these great steps are being taken, the role of the educator / teaching artist as vehicle for the transmission of media education is increasingly under fire. In an October 2013 Slate article, Lisa Guernsey, the director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, describes Hear Me, a Pittsburg-based digital media project that places storytelling kiosks throughout the city so that young people can share their voices and stories. Hear Me, Guenrsey says, “has all the ingredients of a feel-good activity for our time: using digital recorders to capture moments and rebroadcast them; linking technology to physical, face-to-face spaces; and giving students a chance to use new tools for self-expression.” 4

The project organizers had imagined that they would simply set up a website to collect stories for the storybooths, and because the online platform existed, they would see “kids jumping online and creating audio and video stories about issues in their lives.” It soon became clear that this vision would not come to pass. Young people were not eagerly signing up to contribute content on their own. In regrouping and trying new approaches to generate stories, the researchers learned that “people and kids valued having us, or a third party who has legitimacy and skills to work with kids in the way that we do, visit and bring technology, programming, and ideas to them.” The researchers began partnering with nonprofits, schools, and interviewers to build relationships with young people and gradually acclimate them to the storytelling process. “Under this strategy,” Guernsey writes, “the project has recorded more than 3,700 stories.” 5

In some corners of the funding world, among portions of the general public, even among some researchers and educators, there is an underlying and insidious assumption that just because (some) young people have access to media technologies by way of cell phones and video games, that this access somehow nullifies the need for a trained educator to guide critical, socially conscious, and transformative use of these technologies. In youth media organizations across the country, we see over and over that not only does an educator serve as a gateway into a rich understanding of the scope, impact, and implications of media technologies, but that a youth media educator is also a professional mentor, a friend, a counselor, and a youth media center itself is a space for community to be built and nurtured. In short, the youth media center and the supportive mechanisms it provides are instrumental to personal, as well as professional, development.

Because unfounded assumptions do exist that equate media access with media literacy, it’s imperative that youth media – and the independent media sector at large – work hard at demonstrating the value of the work we do. While each youth media organization is responsible for sharing their work with their communities, we argue that there is also strength in numbers. In 2009, the field established that the work of youth media can best be strengthened via collaboration, the establishment of federations and/or collectives that provide space for resource sharing, information exchange, and for making visible the work of the sector. In short, youth media’s impact is amplified when organizations across the country connect and fortify a sustainable national network.

For the last decade, youth media has sensed the need for active community building among the manifold organizations that comprise the field. Regional youth media networks have been thriving in various parts of the country: Philadelphia, Twin Cities, Chicago, and recently, the San Francisco Bay Area. These regional groups are able to provide outstanding and unprecedented services to the young people in their communities because the network enables resource sharing, partnering on programming, knowledge exchange, and other practical services that magnify the capacity, visibility, and impact that any one organization could have alone.

Due to geographic constraints, of course, there are some organizations that cannot be served by these regional networks. This is where a national youth media body – whether that be a loose confederation of independent organizations, or a formal nonprofit intermediary with its own funding supply – comes in. This national body could provide a space for organizations and regional networks around the country to connect and readily access each other’s work, innovations, and concerns. It would be a body with many brilliant heads that can amplify the field’s capacity for sharing its work and demonstrating its value. And in this interconnected community, the learners served by youth media could powerfully experience their creative expressions as part of a broader, country-wide effort to develop youth leadership and bolster civic dialogue.

A National Network Emerges

In October 2012, following on the heels of the NAMAC 2012 Leading Creatively conference panel, “Youth Media Networks: How We’re Connected,” a handful of committed youth media leaders, recognizing “the diversity of practices, approaches and experiences of those in [the] field,” started a Google Group email listserv to build upon the conversations they started at the Conference. “We see the opportunity to strengthen our work by creating stronger connections among us,” they wrote in their first public announcement on the listserv.

NAMAC offered to help promote the efforts of this emerging National Youth Media Network by providing field building, coordination, and administrative support where needed. After some initial surveying of the field, the organizers decided to launch a series of bi-monthly Connector Sessions: online conversations intended to a) explore topics of relevance to youth media practice, such as assessment, curriculum development, STEM funding, etc.; and to b) initiate an incremental community building and brainstorming process to help elucidate what a national network might look like and in what ways it could serve the field. 6

As a testament to how the pragmatic conversations in the Connector Sessions can lend field-building insight, consider this sampling of questions raised in the first Connector Session on “Emerging Media Arts Standards,” hosted in March 2013. 7 In this Connector, the Chair of the Media Arts Standards Writing Committee of the National Coalition of Core Arts Standards, Dain Olsen, explained the significance of developing educational standards written specifically to meet “learners’ growing needs in the emerging digital media context.” Questions raised by participants included:

  • What do you think the development of assessment tools, will look like [under the Media Arts Standards]? And how can those assessment tools be used with lesson plans and curriculum?
  • Could you talk briefly about how you see the standards and framework that you’re evolving, make space for or articulate or sustain the enduring commitment within youth media to its abiding youth-drivenness?
  • To what extent are media literacy and media analysis a part of the standards here, from an analytical perspective?

In these questions alone, we catch a glimpse of the diversity of perspectives, modalities, and needs in youth media practices across the country. By bringing diverse voices into regular conversation, we can collectively and specifically imagine a national network that is responsive to many, if not all, of these multi-faceted needs.

As the Connector Sessions continue to serve as an interesting and sustainable model for convening the field, the Google Group email listserv has grown incrementally, as has the core group of National Youth Media Network organizers. Currently, we number twelve organizers and over one hundred Google Group members. We have proposed and presented at two conferences: the Alliance for Community Media Conference (ACM) conference and the National Association for Media Literacy Education Conference  (NAMLE). Representatives from ACM and NAMLE, involved as they are in supporting youth media and media education, have in fact joined the organizing committee.

From the great strides taken by the committed group behind the National Youth Media Network, we’ve seen that the question before the field is not whether there will be a national networking body, but when and how. What will that national network look like? Who will lead it? What services would this national network provide? Will it need funding? If so, what sources would honor “youth media’s youth-drivenness” as well as its commitment to critical pedagogy? What cross-sector alliances could it forge to benefit the field? And what will be the role of the national intermediaries, NAMAC, NAMLE, ACM, and of Youth Media Reporter in this ongoing field-building work?

While organizations like NAMAC exist to create spaces in which such questions can be raised, ultimately only youth media organizations, students, and educators themselves will be able to provide the answers. We look forward to witnessing – and supporting – the field’s continued evolution.  



Ingrid Dahl, “State of the Youth Media Field Report,” Youth Media Reporter, November 2009, http://www.youthmediareporter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SOF-FINAL-Nov24.pdf.

Lisa Guernsey, “Voices Carry: A Kids’ Tech Project Gets Real,” Slate, October 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/10/hear_me_pittsburgh_project_how_to_use_technology_to_help_kids.html.


  1. “NAMAC + Kathleen Tyner Launch 2013 Youth Media Survey,” NAMAC, last modified May 16, 2013, http://namac.org/namac-announcement/youth-media-survey-2013.
  2. “‘Mapping the Field of Youth Media’ 2013 Survey: Preliminary Overview,” NAMAC, last modified November 26, 2013, http://www.namac.org/idea-exchange/youth-media-national-survey-data-overview-2013
  3. Ingrid Dahl,  “State of the Youth Media Field Report, Youth Media Reporter, November 2009, http://www.youthmediareporter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/SOF-FINAL-Nov24.pdf.
  4. Lisa Guernsey, “Voices Carry: A Kids’ Tech Project Gets Real,” Slate, October 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/10/hear_me_pittsburgh_project_how_to_use_technology_to_help_kids.html.
  5.  Guernsey, “Voices Carry.”
  6. We invite the youth media community to propose Connector Sessions of relevance to your work. Fill out this form to submit an idea: http://bit.ly/YqJol8.
  7. The Connector Session is archived at http://namac.org/idea-exchange/national-core-media-arts-standards-dain-olsen-youth-media-video.