W2 Gives independent media a voice during the Olympics

If you’re worried about one-sided Olympics coverage controlled by major media outlets, you’re not the only one. Organizers of the W2 Culture and Media House anticipated that small press would be kicked to the curb during the Games, and have unveiled a new community media arts centre to facilitate free expression of the arts, culture, and media in Vancouver.             

As part of the Woodward’s development in the Downtown Eastside, W2 is currently based at the Perel Building at 112 West Hastings until Woodward’s opens in the spring. The four-story building features a 150-capacity performance space, community TV studio, FM radio station, gallery, café, print studio, and more.

Five years in the making, W2 was conceived as a cultural meeting place for artists, residents, community groups, and media representatives in the Downtown Eastside. The space will provide a “home base” for independent journalists, bloggers and small media outlets during the Olympics. It will provide centralized access to resources that would otherwise be denied to independent news organizations.

“W2’s mandate is to break the digital divide, to offer access to technology to people who usually wouldn’t have it, and also to highlight media that usually wouldn’t get attention,” says Hywel Toscano, a Coordinator of W2. “Our focus is on indie media, non-accredited media, artists that are not necessarily featured in something like the cultural Olympiad ...  so we’re going to give a platform to those people.”

If you just want to check out the centre, the public has free access to the art gallery and cafe from 12 pm to 5 pm daily. Registered individuals and media organizations will have full access to the space, including high speed wireless internet, computer work stations, television and radio broadcasting systems, silk-screening and printing services, and daily press briefings.

CJSF Radio, 24 Hours, The Tyee, and Rabble.ca are among the local media outlets already registered to use W2 during the Olympics. International news organizations from Japan, Britain, and the United States have also signed up to use the space.

As the only media centre for journalists who are not accredited by VANOC or the BC Government, W2 will be essential in facilitating the public expression of alternative viewpoints during the Games. Further, its location in the poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside will allow reporters a glimpse into a neighbourhood that major news organizations are likely to avoid.

However, Irwin Oostindie, Executive Director of W2, makes it clear the centre does not promote a particular viewpoint on the Olympics. “We are not an activist centre ...  We don’t want to speak to the converted. We want the media to come here and see for themselves,” he explains. “You can love the Games, you can hate the Games, but this is Vancouver, we’re proud of our city ... and we have a huge opportunity to showcase our culture.”

W2 may also be an indicator of how a changing news industry, marked by the growth of blogs and social networking, has shifted some control of the media into the public domain. Oostindie hopes to organize citizen journalists so that they don’t get lost in the digital wasteland. “The centre will provide a hub to nurture and support those disparate voices ...  If the physical facility didn’t exist, people would be left to their own devices on YouTube, on Flickr.”

But the space is not only a centre for media; W2 will also host a variety of events to celebrate Vancouver’s diverse culture. Free cultural exhibitions, workshops and conferences will be held during the day, while performances and events will be staged at night. Bikes Inside, Hot One Inch Action and African Dance Party are just a few of the 40 events happening in February.

The highlight of the month is the Fresh Media Olympic conference on Feb 22, which will bring together traditional and social media, bloggers and academia to discuss the coverage of the Games. The event will feature a speech from Andy Miah, author of “A Digital Olympics: Digital Games, Ethics & Cultures,” and panels with senior journalists and industry watchers from around the globe.

Lianne Payne, the Administrative Director of the centre, described the project as a “month-long frenzy of activity, but we have long-term plans across the street.” Across the street, of course, is the Woodward’s building, where the space will move when the development is completed in the spring. But in the months between, W2’s temporary space at 112 West Hastings will continue to thrive as an art gallery and community meeting space.

The planned 8,000 square foot space in the Woodward’s building is even more ambitious, with a range of facilities for enriching the arts, culture and well-being of the Downtown Eastside. “The space will be different in a whole number of ways,” says Toscano. It will include a performance space, a multimedia production lab, a TV studio, a Kootenay School of Writing reading room, and a ground-floor café.

In the meantime, the organizers of W2 just hope Vancouverites will show up. “This is an experiment ... our opportunity to break the sound barrier around the Olympics is very possible,” said Oostindie.

// Laura Kane,

The centre offers unique opportunities to students who want to gain experience during their Olympic break. Volunteer positions are available in every area of the project, including broadcasting, publicity, operations, technical support, security and management of the café. Although they’ve already recruited over 150 volunteers in just eight days, it’s not too late to get involved. Interested students are urged to check the website for job postings: http://creativetechnology.org.

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com