On a recent visit to Walla Walla, Washington, Executive Director Amy Lillard moderated a discussion on the Northwest Creative Economy as part of the 2014 Walla Walla Business Summit. The Summit focused on the growing role that the film, television, and new media industries contribute to the regional economy. During her visit, Lillard discovered a cutting-edge media lab at the Walla Walla Public Library (WWPL) and was so inspired by what she saw that she wanted to spread the word about CrewSpace.

Funded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, CrewSpace is described as a new opportunity for tomorrow’s media creators. A WWPL card is the only requirement to access the free classes that are designed to embody the ideals CrewSpace shares with its funder – to demonstrate creativity, embrace innovation and inspire people to do their best. That card is a golden ticket that gives community members of all ages access to courses at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of everything from video production to music to graphic design.

Photo Courtesy CrewSpace

Photo Courtesy CrewSpace

CrewSpace is in its infancy. Just two years ago, the idea of adding a technology lab to WWPL began to take shape for Walla Walla Library Director Beth Hudson. She had a chance to observe some tourists peering in closed shop windows and heard them speculating about the business and the age of the building.  She envisioned QR codes on those businesses’ windows, which would deliver all the information they were seeking through the use of high-quality, 90-second videos.  With public libraries committed to making libraries relevant to everyone, including teens, could this be an opportunity for area teens to gain a new set of skills in a subject like filmmaking that most teens feel passionate about?  Could they become the filmmakers? Her inspiration eventually took form in 2013 as an initiative called StoreFront, but first the WWPL would have to figure out how to add the technology they would need.

Enter Jeffrey Townsend. An Emmy-winning writer and associate producer, Townsend also has decades of experience as a production designer in film and has helmed multimedia projects and developed film education programs. He’s contributed to Washington’s film history as production designer on films like Sleepless in Seattle and The Fabulous Baker Boys and worked with renowned directors Martin Scorsese and Nora Ephron before moving to Walla Walla. The Library found the perfect mix of tech savvy and industry experience in Townsend, making him an ideal director for the lab. Townsend designed the technology lab, CrewSpace, as well as the hands-on style and project-based offerings.

The media lab is finding its way. One lesson learned thus far is that plans must be adjusted to best fit the way patrons are actually using digital media, or how they want to learn to use digital media. Jeffrey Townsend teaches film study and works with film students that want to add to their existing skills, while local middle school teacher Dan Calzaretta, whose students are regular winners at film competitions, will hold a six-week class this summer for those who are brand new to filmmaking. Townsend and Calzaretta aren’t the only instructors in CrewSpace. CrewSpace’s instructors come from diverse professional and creative backgrounds and include musician Chris Jonlick, who has written and recorded with Solange Knowles among others and owns NARL Records.

CrewSpace offers a wide catalog of classes this summer including stop-motion animation, green screen photography, digital filmmaking, and music recording and production. If a library patron has a project in mind or a skill they’d like to develop they can put in a request for it. “We encourage our customers to let us know what they want us to offer,” says Hudson. One such request resulted in the development of a course for nonprofits so that they could create their own public service announcements. Another request was for night photography.

CrewSpace focuses on teens and what they need to pursue their dreams.“By providing them with the technology skills they need in order to pursue careers or higher education (which engages their interest, their creativity and their passion) we are cultivating resilient, problem-solving, lifelong learners who are more likely to pick the right path when faced with choices. At-risk teens who struggle with issues of poverty (which often means a lack of online access and access to any cutting-edge technology) and who face academic difficulties, will discover CrewSpace and find that they can enjoy learning through the creative projects we offer them.  When that happens we’ve made important gains for individuals and for the community,” said Hudson.

Photo courtesy CrewSpace

Photo Courtesy CrewSpace

Inspired by the great work coming out of CrewSpace, Hudson is working on getting more exposure for projects produced in the space. Some projects are currently available online and an overhaul of their website is planned for the future to make it more functional and accessible. The Library is hoping that enough content will be produced at CrewSpace so they can compete in film competitions in the future. They recently hosted a youth-produced music event in the spring.The original StoreFront project went so well that after the original five films were produced, the project caught the eye of a teacher in an adjacent community who contacted Townsend for training. The teacher and his class are now working on the next films with plans to edit them in CrewSpace.

Local parents are requesting classes that teach filmmaking and technology to very small children. Seniors are becoming more proficient with their computers and smart phones, businesses are learning to produce promotional videos and commercials, and youth are finding their confidence through the power of creativity and technology. It’s all good stuff that helps pave the road to the new creative economy that Walla Walla is working to build.