An interview with Jim Duignan of the Stockyard Institute
What was the first instantiation of the Stockyard Radio Stations?
The Stockyard Radio project was actually developed accidentally; it started in the Back of the Yards in the 1990s, when the Stockyard Institute began using radio as a method of capturing stories from youth who were resistant to being photographed or filmed. The project, LOCO COOL, was developed by Steve Ciampaglia and Kerry Richardson. At the time, Kerry worked at Free Radio at SAIC and helped to broadcast the recorded content. That way, the kids who we were working within the Back of the Yards could hear the recordings from outside of their community. The experience of having these kids think of themselves as ‘producers,’ and act as such, elevated their experience of sharing stories. It marked a tool, radio, that we continue to utilize twenty years later.
What types of sonic archives have you produced in the past?
We have recorded everything you can imagine, and somethings you would never think of. This project of auditory exchange has taken place deep inside neighborhoods where no art centers or cultural outlets previously existed. We have captured everything from incidental dialogues to sonic works like impromptu raps, musical performances, spoken word, poetry readings, artist projects to community gatherings and protests, to experimental lectures to animal noises to interviews and testimonials. All of these moments of unfiltered audio moved through our early analog equipment.
How does the technical process work? How are the audio waves transmitted?
We have a small, microwatt FM radio transmitter (also known as a Low Power FM or LPFM transmitter) which has a low enough wattage that it is allowed by the FCC to broadcast unregulated. The low wattage, or power, means that it has a small broadcast range. We use one watt micro transmitters, marketed as an educational kit, to broadcast a radio signal over a very limited distance, such as a school, center, abandoned building, or in this case, a museum. This allows for specific, unique sites to operate as radio stations. This radio programming can then be used as a method to share stories and experiences and to build programs generated in the groups and spaces. This summer, the Smart Museum is one such micro radio station.
How far will the broadcast reach?
It will extend throughout the museum.
How are you using the physical space to help capture sound/stories/experiences?
We have a u-shaped table towards the front of the gallery that we are using to interview folks and record content. The extraordinary team of docents at the Smart Museum are individually recording events throughout the week. David Ladon and I are setting up recordings, and together we are building a weekly program for a repeat broadcast. We are at the Smart Museum throughout the week, and we are working with Smart programing to elicit content for the broadcast based on events connected with In Anticipation of Belonging. We designated a space to write ideas or stories or comments that can then be recorded, either by the author or by another contributor. Then we have dedicated an INPUT/OUTPUT wall to writing ideas, drawing illustrations, and logging the people who are coming through; we are amassing physical contributions to the conversation on belonging in addition to the aural one captured by the radio. I have invited a different artist to come into the space each week and interpret some of the works and ideas hovering around the radio station.
What function is the INPUT/OUTPUT wall serving?
The wall serves to document all the contributors to the radio station. It is operating as part graffiti wall, part message center, and part white board. The white wall stands open for you to make your mark: markings about what you are thinking, who you are, and posing questions are added as INPUT. Similarly, OUTPUT will identify what comes out of our collective work. What will be broadcast throughout the museum is seen as an output. Both of the words INPUT/OUTPUT emphasize that our process includes everyone and highlight the understanding that to do an extraordinary work, everyone must be involved in the project as a producer. Everyone has something to contribute. The end result, the broadcast itself, will demonstrate how the process of slowly building inclusive collective illuminates the content of a much wider and deeper relational experience.
What sorts of interviews/thoughts have you recorded thus far in at the Smart?
We have spoken to high school students from Simeon, Harlan, and Hyde Park Career Academy, children and parents during family day, middle school students, guest and patrons of the museum, University of Chicago students, many visitors and friends and colleagues all sharing some idea around the concept of ‘belonging’.
What kind of sonic experience to you hope to capture with Smart Radio?
We hope to gather a collection of ‘Audio Vérité’ that is as comprehensive as possible, so that we can present a representative record what ‘belonging’ means to all the various participants. Hundreds of hours will be sorted through as we collect this archive, and a new 30-minute program will be broadcast each week, highlighting a collection of our sonic adventures. The 30-minute programs will be made available as a record of two months at the Smart Museum during the summer of 2016.
This project anticipates Conversations with the Collection: Belonging, a yearlong project that opens August 16 and explores ideas of belonging through objects from across cultures and eras on display throughout the Smart Museum’s collection galleries.