The Twin Cities Youth Media Network

The Twin Cities Youth Media Network (TCYMN), which began in 2000, is the longest running network of youth media organizations in the country. TCYMN began meeting without funding, in 2007 gained funding, and has recently lost funding. Nevertheless, it will survive. TCYMN provides a case study for organizations and regions grappling with transitions in their funding models.
The History of TCYMN
Founding members of TCYMN are media practitioners from a variety of media genres, including experimental, documentary, music, narrative and installation. The original members were Dan Bergin from Twin Cities Public Television, Kristine Sorensen from In Progress, Nancy Norwood from Perpich Arts High School, Witt Siasoco from the Walker Art Teen Program, Mike Hazard from The Center for International Education, Nicola Pine from St. Paul Neighborhood Network, John Gwinn from Phillips Community Television, and Teresa Sweetland from Intermedia Arts. Dan Bergin explains, “The more formal connecting began after the 2000 NAMAC conference in the Twin Cities. We noted how connected the youth media groups from New York, Chicago, and Seattle were and thought we should be able to organize.”
As a result, TCYMN youth media practitioners met informally, eventually pulling together a screening of youth work from across their organizations. The screening developed into the annual All City Youth Film Showcase that premieres at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis every fall.
The members were diverse in their approaches and communities served, but they all shared the passion for youth media. Additionally, members began to see their individual work improve because they were sharing best practices and experiences among other youth media practitioners.
Staying up-to-date on the other organizations provided the information and encouragement to tell youth about other programs and expand the youth’s experiences. Slowly, the Network developed ideas to expand their work into a Public Television production, a website, marketing and networking for educators and practitioners, as well as to hire a part-time coordinator.
In 2007 TCYMN received funding for a two-year initiative to actualize these ideas and begin expanding the network beyond the founding members. The network saw an explosion in productivity. Membership increased from seven to eighteen youth media organizations. Attendance at the All City Film Showcase began to reach capacity, and TCYMN began to establish a clear presence with a website, monthly newsletter, one-hour Public Television Broadcast production airing throughout the state with DVD duplication, and attendance at “Straight Shot Youth Media Summit” in May 2009.
With this work came formalized meetings, an executive committee, clear policy on membership, agendas and benefits. The increased structure also created transparency and a central location for housing knowledge so it was less likely to become lost with transitions among organizations. It was now clear how others could be members and what they could expect with that membership. Furthermore, the structure created easy entry points for diverse staff from member organizations to become involved. For example, Americorps members or other new practitioners could join the monthly meetings and help with TCYMN projects. Nicola Pine reflects, “I felt like we [were on] a freight train full speed ahead—[we were] extremely productive and focused on our goals.”
At the same time, there were challenges. For example, TCYMN struggled to find the balance between the coordinator’s responsibilities and an appropriate level of work among the members to ensure members’ investment and evidence of need for their participation. However, with funding, the Network increased transparency and access to this community of knowledge, collaboration and shared opportunities for youth.
A Shift in Funding
TCYMN’s two-year funding came to a dry end in June 2009 because of a shift in focus areas for our funder. Temporarily, while TCYMN pursues new funding, members will move back to an all-volunteer run group and scale back Network-wide activities. However, TCYMN sits poised to continue with or without funding because of its strong roots and spirit of collaboration that began without funding in 2000. These roots, which connected youth media organizations and practitioners in the Twin Cities, nurtured relationships across genres, communities and organizational size.
The root of TCYMN’s existence is, first, the shared belief in the power of teaching media to and with youth. We know this is done better when we connect as a field, regardless of funding. Founding TCYMN member Nicola Pine explains, “The network really is an affinity group [of] committed artists and educators who share a belief in the power of media to change young lives.”
Funding exploded the productivity and reach of TCYMN, created structure, transparency, and a central location for knowledge in the field for the region—but not without the strains on informal relationships that come with more defined structures. For the broader field of youth media, TCYMN represents a successful, decade-strong model of community, cross-organizational support and maximizing opportunities for youth and practitioners within a local, regional network.
Twin Cities Youth Media Network
Joanna Kohler is the coordinator of TCYMN. She runs her own production company Kohler Productions and has been telling powerful stories through documentary video and audio projects since 1999.