Janna Williams, Communications and Marketing Director for MAPS Media Institute, says, “We have a lot to say. A lot of stories to tell, a lot of exciting things going on.”
MAPS, a non-profit whose acronym stands for Media Arts in the Public Schools, has been serving youth grades 8 through 12 since 2004. Its mission statement is to “inspire and prepare Montana’s future generations for success through professional media arts instruction, engaging in community service and compassionate mentoring.” To that end, the professionals at MAPS have given 100% free instruction to hundreds of Montana youth in disciplines such as film, music production, new technologies, podcast, graphic design, and photo journalism. Their two brick and mortar locations, Hamilton and Helena, are supplemented by MAPS Media Lab outreach program which puts similar programs within reach of youth in rural communities such as the Fort Peck, Blackfeet and Flathead Indian Reservations.
Janna Williams emphasizes the importance of media for today’s youth. “That technological connection is growing at an exponential rate, almost un-trackable with today’s youth. They have access to more information than any generation previously. They’re on TikTok, they’re on Instagram, they’re on YouTube, they’re seeing influencers making money. What they’re not seeing is the potential of the media arts and the connectivity they have to technology as a potential career, as something they could do in their life outside of just making little videos.”
Williams, who served on the MAPS Board of Directors prior to joining the team as an employee, came to MAPS following a career as an opera singer, but found that much of the technological aspects of graphic design, coding and film editing was something she wanted more of. MAPS became the “perfect fit” for her aspirations, and she finds herself joking with other MAPS employees that she, like them, “would have been a MAPS kid” had the opportunity existed.
Youth are not the only ones to benefit from MAPS. Williams points out that a lot of the focus of the MAPS programs is centered around “community.”
“We have young filmmakers who are making a big difference at getting their voices out there and telling stories of their communities and really supporting their communities,” says Williams. “They are learning how to become vital members of their communities and that they could potentially have an impact in the state, if not nationally, through using their voice.” As an example, Williams mentions just a few of the many awards that MAPSters have garnered through their work, such as the film, “Waking the Generations,” which this year won the Long Form Non-Fiction award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The film, which was produced entirely by the students of Harlem High School on the Fort Belknap Reservation, gives a powerful look at culture and delves into the perspective provided by many of the Aaniiih Nakoda youth who live there.
The film’s top notch production quality bolsters Williams’ point that instruction by MAPS professionals allows students to see the world around them differently. “It’s really eye-opening,” she says, “and it gets them away from seeing the world through a phone and into seeing the world through their own lens.”
Williams says, “It’s hard to put adjectives to the impact that (MAPS) has upon youth across the state of Montana. You almost have to see it to understand the work that we do.” She encourages people to visit their website https://mapsmediainstitute.com for a look at the programs they offer and to see examples of the work that these dedicated youth have created.
MAPS has recently announced its fall and winter schedule of classes, and Williams likes to remind people that these professionally led courses are completely free to school kids between 8th and 12th grade, as well as homeschool equivalent. Williams acknowledges that there are quality programs that teach similar skills, but because MAPS is free, it doesn’t have that hurdle to overcome. Consequently, she says that MAPS has become a model of diversity and an “eclectic gathering place for all students of all backgrounds.”
In Ravalli County, the MAPS courses in Music Production, Tech, Film and Design will range in length from 9 to 11 weeks, and begin the week of September 26th with two more sessions of each beginning in January and March. These classes are open to all abilities and can be joined at any time. For more information go to mapsmediainstitute.com and click on “Ravalli County.”
So many youth have access to media that the mission of MAPS Media Institute is all the more important. Williams says that exposing kids to the idea that their interaction with media can have more substance and that they could potentially do it as a career is incredible. “It’s opening doors and changing the way that they think about their phones. If we can do that for five seconds, we’re succeeding.”