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Dial 911 for Media Arts

By Larry Sivitz

The 911 Media Arts Center has been an organic part of Seattle’s burgeoning multimedia scene for more than a decade. In digital terms, it’s grown up like a prehistoric Web portal in real, Seattle brick space, linking the creative community to its numerous in-house workshops, special events and the latest tools and resources. Still other links have connected the center with local artists and production talent. Where else is it possible today to rent a digital camera, learn how to use it, shoot video or animation, cut it in one of six top-flight editing suites, and then premiere it in a private screening room — all under the eaves of an innocent looking storefront on Yale Ave. (formerly 911 Pine Street, hence the name)?

Arising out of Seattle’s first multidisciplinary art gallery, known as “And/Or,” 911 has become a regional incubator for new-media development, attracting everyone from code warriors to total neophytes to its light. The incubation concept translates well to the online space — presenting not just an aggregation of streaming media titles, but the unique combination of an author’s work with customized bulletin boards for discussion and an inside look into the media-maker’s creative process.

Such is the case at Webflicks.org, 911’s new online showcase of streaming media shorts produced at the Media Center. In categories labelled “Documentary”, “Media Art” and “Animation,” the website presents both new and old (some of the original PSAs from “And/Or” can be viewed here). You want hot titles? Under documentaries, one of 911’s Web flicks follows the performances of Seattle based Cirque De Flambe, a modern pyrotechnical circus. Another flick details the life of a Pioneer Square bookseller. Under “Animation”, Peter Mitchell’s Ask Frankenstein dispenses “Dear Abby” style advice, and does so interactively.

Executive Director, Fidelma McGinn, who came aboard 911 after playing marketing roles at Microsoft’s Redmond campus as well as its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, sees a golden era coming of age in Seattle, particularly in digital animation. She points out that the “Silicon Forest” presents an attractive alternative for Hollywood emigrees, both in the quality and cost of living here, and in the density of software firms developing or managing online properties. Portland has been a prominent animation center in the past, famous for studios like Will Vinton’s Claymation, but Seattle is taking the lead in advancing the digital version of clay, ink and paint.

Community outreach is another elemental part of this non-profit’s vision. To promote the creative community via networking, the 911 Website maintains the On Line Crew Book, a compendium of local directors, cinematographers, videographers, producers, animators, digital post and effects specialists, voiceover talent and more. Each name on the list links to an individual on-site profile covering related experience, equipment, rates and contact information.

In the pro bono domain, the center donates its time to develop Web sites for organizations such as the Washington State Children’s Home Society, among so many others.

The Media Center already appears to be well on its way in grooming the next E-generation. Last month, 911 debuted HAL, a new Hands-on Animation Lab that will give young students the chance to make simple animation projects during their visits to the Center. An upcoming project known as Reel Grrls Video, created in partnership with the YMCA and KCTS, Seattle’s Public TV Network, will challenge 20 teenage girls to examine their consumption of mass media and how it shapes their identities as young women today. 911 was named the recipient of a prestigious grant from The National Endowment for the Arts. that will help fund the Reel Grrls Project.

There’s also a workshop in your future at www.911media.org that could find you building the new Website, or the new media career, you’ve been day-dreaming about. Workshops include screen writing, producing, editing, fundraising, distribution, HTML/Web publishing, animation and creating multimedia. Core workshops in all levels of video and film camera, lighting, and editing are offered every two months. All workshops are taught by local, national, and international media artists and educators, and are geared for all ages and levels of experience. Most classes are held in the evenings, two or three nights a week, and range in tuition fees from $100-$275. Financial aid is also available.

911 is located at the foot of Seattle’s Capitol Hill near the intersection of Denny and Stewart. Facilities include a 50 seat theater and six edit suites including an AVID Media Composer 8000, an AVID MCXpress, two MAC suites featuring Final Cut Pro and Permiere, an On-Line Betacam SP suite and an Off-Line 3/4′ cuts only suite. Additionally, 911 features Seattle’s only Linux training lab.

Larry Sivitz is managing editor of Seattle24x7.