Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price met with the team spearheading the YUPntwk, a new division of Connecticut Public dedicated to showcasing stories about young multicultural creatives in Connecticut.
- Lauren Komrosky – YUPntwk Leader, Head of Business Management, Research and Analytics, Technology
- Megan Fitzgerald – YUPntwk Director of Operations, Process Development, and Production
- Mallory Mason – YUPntwk Creative Director and Head of Engagement and Outreach
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background.
LAUREN KOMROSKY: YUPntwk is focused on audience development and the creation of new, fresh, original, authentic content to introduce new voices and represent new perspectives.
NAN: Who’s the target for YUPntwk?
LAUREN: We’re engaging with multicultural creators ages 20 to 35. They’re influential, aspirational, and inspirational for younger people in many ways.
When I say creators, I mean videographers, photographers, editors, producers, musicians, artists, dancers, DJs, and entrepreneurs.
MALLORY MASON: We’re specifically servicing and targeting people of color because, in terms of media, people of color are generally marginalized, and their narratives are often one-dimensional. So, we think there’s a big opportunity, especially as public media.
Public media’s mission is to give voice to the voiceless and represent the public and we think, in general, over the years, we haven’t necessarily done a good job of representing all the different cultures, ethnicities, and races here in Connecticut. That’s fundamental to what YUPntwk is doing.
LAUREN: The ultimate goal is to show this age group that they can stay here and flourish here. It’s sustainable. We want Connecticut to become a destination, not just an education corridor between Boston and New York but also a creative corridor. We’re uniquely positioned that way geographically. So, how do we build and capitalize on that and really showcase Connecticut and change the way people view it right now?
MEGAN FITZGERALD: As we started talking to different creators, we realized they were trying to find ways to stay in Connecticut and be sustainable doing what they love. We needed to figure out how to work with them and sort of wrap our arms around what they’re doing. And we didn’t want to just do a flashy campaign. So, we started by getting connected and getting to know people, because the YUPntwk is really about gaining trust and creating new space on a very deep level.
Our aim is to be a digital platform to showcase new content. We’re co-creating with the community, but that takes time. Before we can even get to that place, we have to develop trust and ability. We have to provide space or opportunities for young creatives to hone their abilities and craft—and not feel they’re being exploited. And they need to know we’re in it for the long-haul in terms of our dedication to wanting to share these stories about an audience we truly care about.
LAUREN: We also observed all the local creativity and energy that hasn’t had a spotlight put on it or received that boost to get the much-needed exposure or attention or investment. We saw these young people who are so passionate and good at what they do. Some of it is happening in pockets and we thought: That’s right in our wheelhouse. As a creative media organization, we should be able to figure out how to provide support or at least contribute to the infrastructure with other partners.
Also, how powerful could it be to figure out how to bring all those pockets of energy and creativity together and start to break down the walls that exist organization to organization, institution to community, or even individual community members to community members?
NAN: When did the YUPntwk launch?
LAUREN: We officially launched the NTWK September 12, but the journey started about two years ago. We came together as a team from different departments within Connecticut Public. We began doing research and development by talking with this community, showing up to their events, and listening—really trying to understand what they want, what they need, and how we as a media organization can support them.
We spent time building relationships and listening to the community. We’re very cognizant of the fact that there are other arts and media organizations in this space trying to do similar things with similar missions, so we wanted to be sensitive to that and learn from those partners. How are other organizations doing it? Where are there gaps? Are there opportunities where we can align or collaborate?
NAN: Let’s talk about the NTWK. How many members are there and how do they benefit from membership?
LAUREN: We have almost 500 members. With the NTWK membership, we specifically try to support and amplify creators by offering equipment, space, access to freelance gigs, and “micro investments” to help members create content.
NAN: Where are the financial investments coming from?
LAUREN: Connecticut Public has invested in terms of dedicating three of its full-time employees to work on the initiative. We also receive some funding from Knight Foundation, the Graustein Memorial Fund, the Kitchings Family Foundation, and some major donors. But we designed this program to be able to give back and invest in these creators who will, in turn, be able to create content. We want to give them more opportunities to do what they’re already doing, which is creating vibrancy in this city.
NAN: Was that part of the reason the YUPntwk convened, to provide opportunities?
MALLORY: Yes. Once we recognized there was a big gap in the presentation in our platform, the focus quickly became: How can we help? As public media and a public service, how can we create a pathway and start to include people?
I said from the beginning: We don’t even need to think about innovating. We just need to be inclusive. That’s step one. And that’s an innovation in and of itself.
NAN: How are you making connections and meeting local creators?
MALLORY: We’re not reinventing the wheel here. The first thing we did was to look at our networks. Who do we just know personally? We started there and then part of our process was to ask people: Who would you recommend we talk to?
MEG: And we’re constantly meeting new people. We’re a statewide company, so the idea is that this impacts Connecticut overall. With our offices in Hartford, it was easy for us to start with our network here. But we’ve also met some great people in Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain, and Waterbury. The goal is for us to be able to serve creators throughout Connecticut and build an audience and following with people around the state.
LAUREN: Every time we meet someone or go to an event, we put ourselves out there and introduce ourselves. We ask questions and really take the time to understand someone and their story.
Also, once we started to snowball—people started to know who we were, and they started to see our faces regularly—we realized we needed a way they could regularly access us. So, we devoted one day a week where Mallory is out in the community and meeting with current NTWK members as well as new faces. Part of our strategy is to expand our reach and meet more people in more cities across the state.
NAN: How are the collaborations you’ve made helping the NTWK?
MEG: One of the things we thought was going to be fundamental to what we were building was finding ways to help convene people. Whether that was around something educational—like helping creatives hone some of their crafts—or simply fun. We want to help develop a sense of pride of place, knowing there is space for creators and things for them to do that felt for them and by them.
We started providing some space at Connecticut Public. For example, we hosted a video premiere for someone who was managing an artist. Another artist was experimenting with a podcast. He had done it in New Haven and he wanted to do it in Hartford with a Hartford-based artist who is coming out with an album. We did the podcast in our building and had our staff help with some of the recording.
And we started building partnerships with some local organizations including Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, which is obviously in the space, and Tainted Inc., which is another group trying to figure out how to service creative people and make space available for them to host events and do what they do.
We knew convening was key to our idea of collaboration and getting creatives from those different pockets in the room together, not only from a place of networking and fun, but a place of inspiration. The hope is that those convenings help on the other end too, when it comes to young people creating content or thinking about project—whether they’re collaborating on events with other creatives, or bringing artists or musicians into events happening in the city—so they’re supporting each other and finding new people to support creatively.
And then on the backend, that becomes an inspiration springboard for new stories, new ways to think about stories, and new ways to talk to us about projects they’re passionate about and ways we might think about creating content around that that feels relevant to this audience.
That’s how we’re coming into this space. We’re trying to find ways to create pathways and activities to support this group and enable them to create or co-create and coproduce things that are relevant and important to them. It’s not something that can happen overnight.
NAN: YUPntwk also showcases local creatives through events. Can you tell us about some you’ve hosted?
LAUREN: Sure. We wrapped a bunch of events toward the end of the year. Our big event, The Push, is a pitch competition. The winners received a financial award as well as support from us to develop both a content and an event idea, so we’re going to see those through fruition.
NAN: What’s next for YUPntwk?
LAUREN: The question is: Now that we launched and have a growing membership, how do we scale that while consistently adding value? And how do we still manage it as three individuals? We’ve brought in people from the community as part-time employees to support different things, and we’ll continue to do that. But for now, our focus is really how do we scale and gain the support to be able to continue?
MEG: We’ll continue to service the community and develop new content. We’re also planning events and thinking about developing more partnerships, because we know partnerships are everything. So, it’s about really exploring what makes sense and how not to take on too much, but really deliver value.
Also, we’re using social media to deliver on the look and feel we want the YUPntwk community to respond to. Through their feedback, we’ll continue to shape our mission.
LAUREN: We’re constantly reflecting on what’s working and what isn’t – that’s part of our ethos: Test iterate. Test iterate. Don’t do it if it’s not working. We’re taking some time to think strategically going into the new year. We know though that one of these big outcomes is going to be content.
The way we have structured it right now, we’re investing in individual creators or small companies, acquiring existing content and building pilot episodes for short-form digital content or web series. We’re always looking for content. And we are going to be continuously figuring out ways to structure and design programs to create content with the community. That’s ongoing. How that actually manifests itself may evolve. But what’s coming down the pike is launching the content pipeline we’ve been building up and will consistently push out. We’re excited to announce that we’re launching our content in early February, so those interested should follow our Instagram to stay updated!
Learn more about YUPntwk