Hundreds of people from across the country began arriving in Detroit on Thursday to participate in an event that is as much an experiment in social organizing as it is a conference on media and technology. The Allied Media Conference (AMC), now in its 14th year, brings together artists, technologists, educators, activists and others for the goal of developing "media strategies for a more just and creative world."
The gathering has its roots in the small press and underground publishing world, beginning in Bowling Green, Ohio as the Midwest 'Zine Conference in 1999. Organizers began to branch out into other forms of media when it relocated to Detroit six years ago. They also began experimenting with a more participatory model of running a conference. It's now divided into 22 separate tracks, organized by a total of 60 coordinators and a trio of directors from a group called Allied Media Projects.
The AMC has a reputation for being incredibly diverse. A majority of attendees in recent years have been women, as well as people of color. Traditionally the conference has also attracted a strong youth and LGBTQ presence. And it's not just a Detroit thing -- almost 2,000 people are expected to attend this week, and 60 percent will be visiting the city from elsewhere.
This year's program is organized around three principles: Create, Connect and Transform.
"On the creative side there will an abundance of hands-on skill-share workshops with people making media," said Jeanette Lee, one of the co-directors of Allied Media Projects.
The mediums in these workshops are intentionally broad, encompassing radio, comics, 3D films, silk screening, video games, breakdancing and DIY maker-spaces.
The AMC is making a special effort this year to forge new relationships. Organizers are sponsoring a day-long series of network gatherings for seven different communities, including prison reformist and abolitionist groups; childcare collectives; Spanish speaking immigrants; and a group called INCITE that dedicates itself to stopping violence against women of color.
Lee says the conference focuses on transformation by encouraging everyone who attends to be think of themselves as teachers and learners, and by emphasizing media as a gateway to change both the world, and themselves.
She is most excited about this year's opening ceremony, which she believe is the thread that weaves together the expansively-themed conference. The presentation is being put together by transmedia science fiction storyteller Thenmozhi Soundararajan; Detroit writer, filmmaker and activist dream hampton, and artist/theorist Micha Cárdenas. The piece, "Experiments in the Species Self," explores the nature of storytelling in the modern world.
"We need to be thinking of our storytelling in the context of the state of planet. Most of the way we tell stories involves singular protagonists," Lee said of the ceremony. "What's called for is a collective narrative -- seeing ourselves in a shared space on the planet instead of individuals oppressing or being oppressed by each other."
An important part of the AMC's story has been shaped by the city of Detroit. According to Lee, the conference has raised national awareness about Detroit. In turn, she says, residents have increasingly embraced the group's mission.
"We shifted from being a national organization based in Detroit to a local organization that holds an a national conference," she said.
Organizers from the Allied Media Projects have also been instrumental in developing projects after the conference that stay local, like the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition and trio of projects falling under the umbrella term "future media" that provide local residents with practical media training. Some of those involved with these projects have went on to organize events at the conference.
Carmen Mendoza King, 26 is a volunteer coordinator at this year's conference. She's excited about participating in tracks dedicated to print media and healing justice, and said she keeps attending the event because of the unique perspective it offers on media and activism.
"I think because the scope of what is covered [at the] AMC is so broad, it allows for thinking about media and social justice in a broad scope that's almost holistic," she said. "You see all these themes and issues inter-weaving that you might not get from the name Allied Media Conference."
The Allied Media Conference takes place at Wayne State University in Detroit (with several events at other locations around the city) from Friday, June 28, to Sunday July 1. Conference-goers can get a complimentary registration if they sign up to volunteer. For more information, visit amc.alliedmedia.org.
Flickr photo by DIYLILCNC