BAYCAT Profiled in The Potrero View

A nice writeup of BAYCAT from the January 2011 issue of The Potrero View. We have no idea where they got the impression that our next film is called “La Familia” is but we appreciate the publicity all the same!

Kids Tell Their Stories at Dogpatch Media Center

By Terry Guthrie
Three BAYCAT students

Bayview-Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology

Last month 200 people gathered at a suite in the American Industrial Center, on Third Street, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of BACYAT, a little-known Dogpatch jewel. BAYCAT, an acronym for the Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology, offers education and employment to underserved youth, particularly in Southeast San Francisco. But BAYCAT is no ordinary training program. The nonprofit blends free, digital media classes for at-risk youth with socially conscious entrepreneurship.

Inspired by the work of Bill Strickland – who serves as president of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, a pioneering enterprise dedicated to fostering community through art and entrepreneurship – BAYCAT was founded in 2005 by Potrero Hill resident Villy Wang, who directs the organization. Wang grew up in New York City public housing, where her mother taught her the value of art, education, entrepreneurship, and storytelling. Stints as a banker, lawyer and a credentialed teacher prepared Wang for her BAYCAT role. “I started BAYCAT with the idea that the power of media is something that needs to be harnessed… especially to help underserved teens,” Wang said.

In its first semester BAYCAT taught three students in an undeveloped space on Third Street. Today, it’s nearly outgrowing its stunning warehouse space. Wang raised $1 million to remodel the space, and designed it herself to maximize it’s usability. Any area can morph at a moment’s notice from a board room into a classroom, and then into an editing room that uses the latest cutting-edge equipment. “When I first walked in, I was blown away because I thought it looked like a professional studio,” said BAYCAT video instructor and professional documentarian, Wesam Nassar. BAYCAT’s students range in age from 11 to 25. Free classes and custom-designed workshops teach them how to develop a variety of media skills, including digital video, animation, television production, music video, radio, and film. Students work collaboratively to create and complete projects, such as short animation films about the environment, inspirational rap videos, like Higher with rap artist Mark Stretch, and BAYCAT’s own TV series, Zoom In.

Twice a year BAYCAT students work together to produce a new Zoom In episode, which features an amalgam of animated, digital video or music video interpretations of a central social theme selected by the students themselves. In the fall of 2010, student chose the theme of legacies. With guidance from BAYCAT education and program director, Marco Castro-Bojorquez, the students brainstormed, researched and developed ideas to tell the stories of their own environmental, personal and cultural legacies. “We have a great deal of resourcefulness in here to provide for folks like youth of color to come here and tell their stories. We, as youth workers, need to pause and take a moment to listen to what the youth right now are going through, and hopefully, we can learn from them,” said Castro-Bojorquez.

BAYCAT has gone beyond its Third Street walls to teach kids how their community can be transformed through storytelling. Working with more than 250 teachers in the budget-strapped San Francisco Unified School District, BAYCAT has brought digital media to Thurgood Marshall, Mission, and Ida B. Wells high schools. Last year BAYCAT, in conjunction with Thurgood Marshall’s Peer Resources Class, won first place in the high school division of MY HERO’s international short film contest. Why So Low, the award-winning short, relies on first-rate journalism to tell the shocking story that only three African-American young men graduated from Thurgood Marshall in 2010.

Mission High School and BAYCAT student Laron Davis took home third place in the MY HERO experimental category for his reflective piece, 75 Cents to Ride, about riding public transit in San Francisco. Mission’s BAYCAT program has inspired the formation of “My TV” at the school, which is now a permanent part of the school’s curriculum and a source of great pride. For 18 to 25 year-old program graduates, BAYCAT has a 20-week paid, digital media internship program that culminates in the production of a short film. Over the past two years interns have produced five short films, The Grind, The Point, The Last Shot, Invisible City and La Familia, which tell stories about the issues affecting local communities. BAYCAT intern Ala Taha won first place in the MY HERO’s community division for his piece Bridging the Gaps, about connecting former foster youth with babies to housing and services.

Wang believes that it’s not enough to teach kids to tell their stories; she also wants to give her  students the skills to become socially conscious entrepreneurs. BAYCAT’s entrepreneurial spirit is evidenced on its website, baycat.org. On the home page three fresh-faced kids, BAYCAT students, hold signs saying “My Moment Our Movement.” They’re asking site visitors to buy socially-minded theme-based cell phone ringtones that they’ve written and produced. BAYCAT’s paid interns can work with professionals in Studio BAYCAT, BAYCAT’s for-profit arm. At Studio BAYCAT, corporate funders and donors, like Citibank, Yahoo, and neighborhood businesses, turn into clients, paying BAYCAT employees and participants to produce professional quality print and digital marketing materials for special nonprofit projects, or identity logo and branding packages that make a social impact. Studio BAYCAT has worked with more than 60 clients, generating significant funds to support its core education programs. In the future Wang hopes to expand the number of venues at which the portfolio of socially important work created by BAYCAT’s cadre of students and interns can be experienced. She’s also like to create satellite BAYCAT media centers in all San Francisco High Schools.

Applications for and descriptions of spring classes – Digital Audio Production, Animation and TV Production for 11 10 17 year olds – are available at www.baycat.org. Classes start February 7, and registration is still open.