By late 2013 Kansas City teens will enjoy a major new resource courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library and Science City at Union Station -- a space offering the media and mentoring that will allow them to employ cutting-edge digital tools to tell their own stories.
But the free Kansas City Digital Media Lab planned for Union Station will provide much more. It will let teens advance their studies, prepare for jobs, and explore the world around them.
For several months efforts have been underway to make the Digital Media Lab a reality. Working with a $100,000 planning grant (one of only 24 in the country) from the MacArthur Foundation administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kansas City Public Library and Science City at Union Station have been collecting information to ensure that the proposed facility meets the needs of local young people.
A 12-person Kansas City Digital Media Teen Advisory Board has been established; and its young members, chosen through a competitive process, are weighing in on the resources, tools, and services that should be offered by the lab.
Andrea Ellis, learning labs project coordinator, envisions a retreat where adolescents can study, do research, and be creative. But it won't be all work: "It will also just be a space in which they can play."
Ellis and other planners have looked at similar programs in other cities, like the digital lab in Chicago.
"In Chicago they have a 5,000-square-foot space, and it's pretty much maxed out on weekdays after school," she reports. "We are striving to create a unique Kansas City version of that space."
The Kansas City Digital Media Lab seeks to fulfill its mission by:
The goal is to allow teens to engage in projects that promote critical thinking, creativity, and skill-building. Planners envision a ripple effect in which teens who participate will go on to become mentors themselves.
But organizers hope the ripples will spread even wider and teens who previously had not considered attending institutions of higher learning will now see it as a reachable goal. When youth are engaged in satisfying civic and creative processes, the community at large benefits. By being in tune with technology and innovation, young people will position themselves to be advocates, entrepreneurs, and employees in the local digital media industry, thus potentially attracting even more dynamic businesses to the area.
Teens who previously had not considered attending institutions of higher learning will now see it as a reachable goal.
Even as planners are hammering out the details of the digital media lab, they are seeking ways to fund it through contributions from business, the not-for-profit community, and individuals.
Ultimately, they believe, the model will be replicated in communities all over the country. The Digital Media Lab will demonstrate how teens can enhance their participation in their peer groups, communities, potential futures, and the creative process itself.