“We know that people watch videos, they watch movies,” says Chris Hope, Executive Director of The Loop Lab. “So we’re asking: who’s behind those editorials, who’s behind those cameras? When we bring women and people of color behind the camera or behind the mixing board, it is disruptive. Disruptive in a good way, we think.”
The Loop Lab is a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based media arts internship program for young adults who are underrepresented in the creative economy, as well as a for-hire media company and job placement service that both employs its trainees in-house and helps them find work city-wide.
Sixty percent of Loop Lab interns live in Cambridge; many of them in The Port—a neighborhood that for decades was known for its candy factories and diverse population, but which is now experiencing a rush of gentrification as tech companies move in to fill vacated industrial buildings.
Right at Home with Creative Placekeeping
Recently, Loop Lab partnered with The AVIXA Foundation, the charitable arm of AVIXA (the trade association of the audiovisual industry) to offer its interns professional-level courses and attendance at trade shows. They also got the chance to work with Amazon company Audible to produce a four-part series of short films about the neighborhood titled “An Audible Dialog with the Port.”
“We have a creative placekeeping relationship with The Port,” Chris explains. “These stories helped to highlight the impact that gentrification has had on the area, with our trainees as the content creators and tech directors—all young people of color. It was exciting to be able to highlight the stories that these young adults are living, and to have them telling their own stories.”
Another important aspect of the series, Chris says, was the opportunity the trainees had to work with Audible staff members to generate each video’s vision and storyline. “These young people might live 56 feet from Audible HQ, but it might as well be 5,600 miles—the access to places like this is so unequal and not guaranteed. This project helped to show them that they belong at an Audible, they belong at a Google. They worked one-on-one with professional staff, which is so important when you’re trying to develop your career.”
Human Development is as Important as Workforce Development
“Our trainees come in with some heavy realities,” Chris says. Many have experienced life-changing traumas including gun violence and parental abandonment. “With these circumstances, there’s a lot we can help with—but also a lot we can’t control. So we bring in mentors, especially from their own communities, to help give them hope and confidence; to show them that they are powerful and they can get through it and they can do this. That they are more than the sum of the problems in their lives.”
Chris says that Loop Lab focuses on human development just as much as creative placekeeping and workforce development. “Obviously, you need to build up the latter to compete in this economy,” he says. “And the creative placekeeping piece is empowering people to tell their own stories from their own perspective. But the human development aspect… I’ve seen a lot of programs similar to ours struggle with that. Not that we’ve solved it all!, but when I did research in my community about what people wanted and needed, I found that human development was just as important as workforce development.”
“Our cohort from last year is graduating, and it’s great to see them growing into professionals in the workplace,” he says. “ArtPlace is allowing us to employ people from The Port: the people who are graduating are people we could be—and are—hiring as videographers. So this grant has really impacted our neighborhood. These young adults are building up their confidence, building up their own social and gender identities, and really strengthening their relationship to their neighborhood.”
Chris tells a story that exemplifies Loop Lab’s work. One of their graduates was approached by the executive director of a local youth center who wanted him to make a video for the organization. He told the director that he could certainly make a video for her—but that he could also teach her how to do it so that she could do it herself going forward.
“That’s when I finally understood what you were doing with these young adults,” the director told Chris later. “You’re not just teaching them skills; you’re teaching them how to think.”
Regional Scalability & Broader Replication
Chris says it’s become evident that The Loop Lab’s work is both scalable within his region and replicable more broadly. “The Port is not the only neighborhood that matters, or the only one that has a rich, culturally diverse community to preserve and celebrate.
“We’re seeing our partnerships expand across the region, and seeing how we can use what we’ve learned to keep the progress going. We’re becoming an arts services pipeline in this part of the country. Brown [University] hired us as a consultant recently, to help train radio and media staff to create more compelling video content for their communities. I want to stress that more work can and should be done.”
- Does your organization need a hand with video production, audio recording, or digital storytelling? Get high-quality, affordable media services: hire The Loop Lab.
- Do you or your organization have media production expertise? Want to mentor creative young people? Email Chris at chope [at] thelooplab.org.
- Read more about The Loop Lab in The Harvard Crimson and Boston Voyager, and on ArtPlace (including this heartfelt personal account of their presentation at the United Nations by Port resident and budding Loop Lab trainee Tyrie Daniel).