Thursday, March 24, 2011

Free Speech

I am currently interning for an awesome organization that is all about bringing technology and opportunities to people who might not other wise get a chance to experience those things. Read an article about Irwin of W2 below.

Free Speech

Irwin Oostindie is nothing if not a man of vision. We are both sporting hard hats standing in a dust-filled rectangular room separated from the Woodward’s atrium by a thin layer of glass covered in brown paper. But it’s clear the two of us are gazing at very different scenes.

Whereas, to me, the future home of W2 Community Media Arts is a mere run-of-the-mill construction site, Oostindie, W2’s 44-year-old executive director, is in another world entirely.

Gesturing excitedly to the exposed drywall and heavy steel beams looming overhead, he lists the technological bells and whistles that will eventually enliven the space: multiple TV screens; interactive touch-screen computers; DJ booth; and, casting a glance at what is currently a fairly mundane staircase, a multimedia portal he calls “the video cube.”

“You’ll walk up the stairs and the sensors know — there could be a piano note or your movements could trigger video or lighting in the space,” he says, a little breathless. “So it’s meant to show people what is typically in a university research lab and bring it into public space.”

The cool factor will hopefully draw people into W2’s social enterprise cafĂ© on the main floor of its 8,800-square-foot space in the Woodward’s complex. This is to be the permanent home for W2, which for the last year has been occupying the city-owned Storeyum space across the street. While the cavernous former museum has been a popular venue for W2-hosted conferences and parties, such as the Utopia Festival earlier this month, it will be here, at Woodward’s, where the organization can finally start delivering on its mandate: creating a space where everyone — Downtown Eastside residents, immigrants, students, working-class people and other marginalized individuals — can access communication technology and learn how to use it.

Once completed, Oostindie’s “video cube” will lure visitors up the stairs to a public common area flanked by a technology suite, public washrooms, admin offices, editing bays, free phones and computers, even an original Woodward’s letter press. In the basement, construction is underway on a community TV and radio broadcast centre with satellite stations for SFU’s CJSF and Co-op Radio. It’ll also double as a 200-capacity event space.

“W2 believes communication is a human right,” says Oostindie, a Gen-x-er whose salt-and-pepper hair picks up the silver glints in his multiple ear piercings. It’s that philosophy, blended with a bit of a punk-rock edge, that led Oostindie — along with W2’s co-directors Lianne Payne and Will Stacey — to conceive of a drop-in media centre back in 2003 when the then-unbuilt Woodward’s development was Ground Zero for class conflict in Canada. Not a day went by when squatters weren’t clashing with city officials, developers and police over their tent city, a protest against the gentrifying influence of development. The ongoing saga provided regular fodder for the mainstream media. Oostindie and many other anti-poverty activists felt — and still feel — they didn’t portray the community fairly.


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