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Allied Media Projects

4126 Third St.
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Jenny Lee

By Amanda Lewan
June 6, 2014

It was during her time as a youth organizer with the community organization Detroit Summer that Jenny Lee first attended the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio.  That was in 2002, and since then Lee and other young people from Detroit Summer kept coming back to the conference year after year, bringing more Detroiters with them.  
"We would organize panels that highlighted Detroit’s strong independent media legacy and all of the transformative media arts work being done by youth in the city—from zines to hip hop to youth journalism around the drop-out crisis in Detroit schools," Lee says. "People were compelled by the brilliance coming out of Detroit."
When it started in 1999, the conference, then called The Midwest Zine Conference, was mostly focused on print media.  Later it grew to encompass online citizen journalism and digital media. When Lee and others relocated the conference to Detroit in 2007, the definition of media evolved to include nearly all forms of communications. 
"The definition of 'media' at the conference now includes video documentaries, filmmaking, dance, street art, graphic design, interactive technologies and more," says Lee. "Perhaps more importantly, the purpose of media has also evolved over the years, from telling our own stories to telling stories that can transform our communities for the better."
Lee now serves as the Executive Director for Allied Media Projects, the host of the annual conference. This year's conference will expect to draw several thousand people to Detroit from June 19 through June 22. The 16th annual Allied Media Conference will host about 200 hands-on workshops, panels, talks and presentations all around the concept of using media for a better world. The content is curated and developed by more than 80 volunteer coordinators.
Lee is boldly fierce about the potential for media to shape reality, for better or worse. A resident of Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood for eight years, she’s also acutely aware of the tensions and changes happening throughout Detroit. Local Detroiters, she feels, must tell new stories during this tumultuous time—ones that challenge the prevailing narratives of this city as a blank slate or a wasteland.
"We're providing media and technology tools to support Detroiters who are working towards a more just, creative, collaborative city," Lee says. "We're unearthing stories that shift perceptions of who is a problem-solver and who is a problem."
Each year, the conference features a range of "tracks" or themes.  This year, one of the tracks Lee is most excited about will focus on creative place-keeping.  It will include a panel called "Gentrification is Not Inevitable" featuring Roberto Bedoya, Director of the Tuscan Pima Council for the Arts; Damon Rich, Chief Urban Planner for the City of Newark; and Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-Lopez.  Moderated by Nina Bianchi of The Work Department, they will explore the role of art and design in community engagement and bottom-up policy-making. 
After this year's conference comes to an end, Lee will be hard at work organizing and preparing for next year, and providing year-round support for a growing alliance of media arts and technology projects. Their team offers fiscal sponsorship, project management, communications assistance, and other incubation-type services for grassroots creative projects. They offer support for both local and national media projects.
At the core, the alliance is helping execute what the conference inspires: a belief in change for community through media. Lee reminds us it’s not just about creating an end product; it’s about the process of making media together as a community. 

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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