We all have the right to tell our own story and Brookline Interactive Group (BIG) is making sure of that. Having rebranded from over 30 years of being Brookline Access Television, BIG has moved from a traditional public access station to a new national model of civic engagement, community outreach, and emerging media accessibility.
They’ve continued their focus to one of empowerment and accessibility as they facilitate access by the Brookline community and beyond on storytelling through media and, most recently, XR storytelling through immersive forms of media equipment, classes, VR Toolkits and production grants.
We spoke with Erin Kinney, Management of Engagement & Education, as well as Kathy Bisbee, Executive Director of BIG, and the co-founder at BIG’s Public VR Lab, to learn more about their interest in this local powerhouse.
What was it that initially interested you in BIG?:
Erin: I actually first came in the doors on behalf of a small non-profit focused on media literacy to talk with BIG about potentially partnering together. That’s when I came in and met with Kathy and actually learned about the opportunity.
I have a Masters in Media, Culture, and Communication from NYU and I’m really interested in how societies use media and the stories media is trying to tell and, of course, media literacy. That is really what drew me to this organization.
In my role, I’m the manager of Engagement and Education. In addition to doing marketing and education and being involved in classes and organizing our educational efforts, I also really love partnering with other organizations in the community and really being a part of the process of using the community for good and helping people. And of course, organizing projects that get people in and let them be creative and express themselves is really fun to watch, too.
Kathy: I grew up in a very small town in western Maine. Actually, in eighth grade, I was on a vocational track and wasn’t sure if I would go to college. I had a teacher who thankfully saw my potential, my technical skills and my aptitude for troubleshooting, and storytelling and I was fortunate that this teacher started assigning me books to read every weekend and asked me for my critical thinking around book recommendation. She started realizing my capacity and put me into a gifted and talented after-school filmmaking program.
As a kid, I never really had a lot of access to opportunities like this so to be moved into an advanced course shifted the ways I saw myself and how I saw others and the world. It gave me a leg up out of my hometown to have access to a bigger world of technology, filmmaking, and education.
So I look at the work we do here, and one of the things that gives me the greatest joy is that I know people are coming in from a variety of ages or backgrounds and that we are helping them to understand their own capacity. We have the ability to help them find their potential to share stories and start lifelong passions and their careers.
How would you describe the company culture?:
Erin: We’re a small team, which really impacts the culture. When you’re a small team a lot of people are wearing different hats and have to be collaborative, flexible, and work well with one another because you’ve got a small team. We all need to stick together if we’re going to be successful.
I’d say we’re fun and a little quirky in a good way. People are really passionate about what they do and we do enjoy each other. It’s not uncommon I’ll stop by someone’s desk with a few questions about work and then stick around to ask like, oh, hey, how was that cool thing you did last week? Because we do really care about each other.
Kathy: There’s a real personal connection. That tone is set by our organization and members.
There’s a level of professionalism in our culture but there’s still a sense of warmth and welcoming energy. We’re a space, like public libraries, where anyone could walk in and not be shooed out. A lot of public places are open to visit but you can’t hang out too long.
We have folks all the time who are camped out, creating cool things; we have teenagers on the couches, we have folks coming in for a Spanish or graphic design class to use our space. We have a lot of different kinds of people from different backgrounds coming in to use our resources.
It’s a welcoming environment.
What are some of your internship opportunities?:
Erin: We offer a pretty wide variety of internships and we’ve had some really fabulous Emerson students come through.
We have production internships where they’re going out and filming content or helping us edit things, but interns have also helped us write and produce promo videos. We also have graphic design, journalism, and a virtual and augmented reality-focused program. Those are most of our media-focused opportunities.
There’s also social media, marketing, and PR internships as well.
Kathy: We’ve had such great feedback from former interns on the value of the program as many have said they felt prepared for the workforce after having what felt like a real internship. You’re not going to be filing or getting people coffee at BIG. You’re going to be working hands-on on projects that are very similar to what you would experience in your career later on down the road.
What interests you in Emerson students?:
Erin: Emerson has such an incredible reputation for being a leader in media. Their students are also so passionate and talented in the work they do. Seeing an application come in from an Emerson student, I know already that, if this candidate was able to get into Emerson, then they already probably have the chops to get a little further in media.
A lot of the candidates who have come in have really showcased that.
Kathy: I get the sense that, culturally at Emerson, the students and the faculty are very much interested in civic engagement, community media, participation, and journalism- all things that we’re interested in too. I think there’s some really great alignment there with our values.
BIG is an integrated media and technology education center and a community media hub for Brookline, MA and the region. BIG facilitates diverse community dialogue, incubates and funds hyperlocal storytelling, arts, journalism and technology programs, and serves over 500 youth and adults annually through innovative classes and partnerships. BIG offers extensive trainings and high-quality filmmaking equipment in traditional media, Virtual Reality (VR), and in 360-video. BIG provides low-cost professional media services to non-profit organizations, education partners, businesses, and to local government.
The Public VR Lab is building a Community VR/XR movement and a new field that values accessibility, digital inclusion, and diversity in XR. Recent projects include: Partnering with the United Nations Environmental Programme and Datavized, the Lab co-produced a global air pollution VR experience. The Lab leads a national XR filmmaking collaborative, called Immigration in Full Frame with 15 partners; and created an immersive journalism experience with the Boston Globe. The Lab provides training, equipment, eco-hackathons, and fellowships for artists, storycoders, and media makers in Boston/Brookline, MA, and offers low-cost VR Toolkits for libraries, arts and cultural organizations, educators, and municipalities.