Two Indiana University of Pennsylvania studio art faculty members are using a $70,000 Moonshot Grant to launch new worlds of opportunity for youth in Pittsburgh’s Brownsville area.

Faculty members Sean Derry and Sharon Massey, cofounders of the artist collective Local X Change, were selected for a Moonshot Grant from Remake Learning, a peer network for educators and innovators in the greater Pittsburgh region. Support for Moonshot Grants is provided by the Grable Foundation and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

Local X Change’s “Studio Stream”The grant will fund Local X Change’s “Studio Stream,” which repurposes a Japanese mini truck into a traveling earthbound communications satellite and co-creates an internet-based radio station. The project’s focus is to “amplify voices of rural teens” through this extracurricular opportunity and introduce the participants to working with electronic circuits through the creation of custom Bluetooth speakers that will be distributed to communities touched by Studio Stream.

The custom mini-truck will provide recording equipment, and youth who want to be part of the project will be encouraged to create any content they wish to air—music, poetry, radio plays, or podcasts. This content will be transmitted through Studio Stream’s station and publicized throughout the region, and transcripts of the programs will be created and published in a project zine.

A public station launch and live listening events are planned for summer 2024 in Brownsville and around the region; through the shows and broadcasts, Studio Stream will focus on celebrating the youth involved in the project and their unique talents, Derry and Massey said.

Renovations of the mini truck are underway in Derry’s studio in Indiana. Derry and Massey anticipate inviting IUP students, including communications media students who have expertise in radio, to join the project during the summer months, when the bulk of the outreach will take place. A mini truck reveal party is planned for May in the Indiana community.

“We had been talking about a project that would involve a mini truck, and when this application came out, we felt it was the right opportunity to develop a project that focuses on rural youth, and allows us, as the artists, to be collaborators with the community and empower youth to make meaningful contributions to public projects,” Massey said. “The teens involved in the project will have full creative control of the content they are broadcasting, so we are not directing their creative work, but collaborating with them,” she said.

“Neither of us have radio experience, so we’ll be learning along with the students involved in the project,” Derry said. “We were really excited to apply for this grant because it allows you to dream and to innovate, and this project will allow us to expand on the work we’ve been doing here at IUP in new and different ways, and to think differently about education,” he said.

“We know that we’ll be outsiders coming into a community and inviting teenagers there to be part of our project, so we’re designing the exterior of the mini truck to be interesting and approachable,” he said. “We’re covering it in a rose gold metallic surface, so it draws attention and interest,” he said. “The mini truck is ‘home base’ for the project, and is meant to build curiosity,” Derry said.

As Derry and Massey renovate the mini truck, they are working with Rivers of Steel to identify project partners that will help facilitate the launch of the project, including holding open-ended meetings to establish a foundation for meaningful collaborations throughout the duration of the project.

After the design, development and outreach phases of the project are completed, Derry and Massey will begin publicizing the project, gathering participants, and promoting content creation and speaker building workshops. 

Because Studio Stream exists outside of a school setting, it focuses on the identity formation of rural teens and the creation of more impactful social support networks, they said.

“As faculty and through Local X Change, we are very familiar and comfortable working with learners in a collaborative fashion, but reaching and engaging learners and their support networks is new for us,” Massey said. “A focus on sound and written content creation is also very different from our focus in studio art, but that’s part of our excitement about the project—it expands our thinking about new forms of art and expression while providing an opportunity for youth who want to create outside the traditional studio arts,” she said.

About Local X Change

Local X Change prioritizes collaboration and civic engagement as a tactic to democratize art and technology.

Recent Local X Change projects include the Public Works Design Studio, which mentors young makers through public and private commissions; the Future Makers Forum, which brings changemakers from underrepresented groups to present public talks and workshops; Common Goods, a pop-up store featuring laser-cut paper packages made by IUP students in Derry and Massey’s 3D Design and Digital Fabrication class that raises funds for nonprofit organizations and programs; Design Stars, a mock reality television show for student artists; Traffic Island Oasis, a temporary outdoor art installation by IUP students; Plastic Space, a project for students to explore the viability of colonizing a newly discovered planet similar to Earth; the Hallmark Prize, recognizing student artists; and the Sculpture Support System, designed to provide a more in-depth professional experience for highly motivated students through social practice projects that engage community members in a range of art-making processes, including the Monument Project.