Podcast helps Pitt community process ‘when it feels like the world is on fire’

Shannon Fink, operations manager at the Center for Creativity, hosts “Processing…” a podcast about the role of creativity in the Pitt community.

Via creative.pitt.edu

Shannon Fink, operations manager at the Center for Creativity, hosts “Processing…” a podcast about the role of creativity in the Pitt community.

By Siddhi Shockey, Senior Staff Writer

Mellow instrumental music fades into the background as Shannon Fink asks her podcast’s listeners a series of questions.

“What does it mean to make creative work when it feels like the world is on fire? Can creativity channel anger and community? And should it?” Fink asks. “How do we learn to practice creativity in times that reflect back to us the most fearful versions of our neighbors and ourselves?”

These are just a few of the questions that Fink — operations manager at the Center for Creativity — and the C4C staff hoped to answer in their second season of “Processing…” a podcast about the role of creativity in the Pitt community.

Amidst the shift to working from home and stay-at-home mandates last March, the C4C’s staff decided that it was time to launch their podcast. According to Fink, the staff had the idea for a podcast long before the pandemic, but they thought “Processing…” could help connect the Pitt community in a time of necessary isolation.

“We thought creating our own podcast would be a great way to not only figure out how to do a podcast and to be able to teach others, but to make those connections so that when we’re back on campus, we can have a larger community,” Fink said.

The first season of “Processing…” featured standalone interviews with members of the Pitt community who integrate creativity in their lives. The C4C staff interviewed various faculty and students between April and June 2020, including a member of the facilities staff who pursues painting in his free time.

But for their second season in November and December 2020, the staff decided to focus on creativity as an outlet for anger and anxiety, after the summer’s large Black Lives Matter protests brought increasing awareness of injustice and police brutality. This season featured MFA graduate Hannah Eko, senior Craig Hayes and Tahira Walker — a former staff member at the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Mike Campbell — an assistant at the C4C and assistant editor for the podcast — said he felt that featuring local creators generated a unique opportunity for reflection.

“Artists are great markers of what is happening because they can speak to how they feel about a certain location but also about what they’re going through internally and about their own identity,” Campbell said.

In the second episode of the second season, Fink allowed interviewees to talk about the pain they felt surrounding the events of the summer. Hayes discussed his emotions surrounding the death of Oluwatoyin Salau — who was only 19 at the time of her death — as an older brother to five sisters. Salau, a Black Lives Matter activist who spoke at several protests in Tallahassee, Tenn., went missing a week before police found her body in June.

Others talked about what they had lost in the midst of the pandemic. Eko was unable to complete her four-week artist in residency in Spain. Ivette Spradlin, a faculty member in the studio arts department, had to grieve the loss of an old friend without being able to attend a funeral with friends and family.

Chad Brown — an assistant at the C4C and lead editor for the podcast — said he felt that listening to the raw emotions and stories people were telling was both moving and challenging at the same time.

“[There were] all of these really raw feelings about the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — especially in Pittsburgh, calling back memories of Antwon Rose II,” Brown said. “Listening to their interviews on your headphones, it feels like they’re talking right to you, and listening to those stories again and again as I edited was definitely challenging.”

There were also minor logistical challenges along the way. Recording from home meant background noise crept into recordings. Brown also said he felt having to interview people through Zoom made it harder to connect with guests.

“Talking to a stranger in person feels different when you’re talking to people on Zoom,” Brown said. “So that’s been a learning curve, on top of the fact that we were all very green and had never done podcasts, and none of us are journalists.”

According to Campbell, the staff hopes that once the physical C4C space can open again, they can open their podcast studio and begin doing in-person interviews. Campbell said he feels this will help the conversations flow and make the podcast more fun to listen to.

“I feel like there’s a lot of humor in some podcasts and I feel like we haven’t been able to have that sort of interaction with someone face-to-face where you get the nice dialogue,” Campbell said.

While the first season featured stand-alone interviews and the second followed a continuous narrative, season three will be an educational collaboration with the University Library System. The season will highlight stories about printmaking, manuscripts, the letterpress and more through the Text and conText Lab located in Hillman Library.

“I think it’ll be really interesting and different than the last few seasons,” Fink said. “We all really value the podcast and see a lot of potential for future collaborations with the Pitt community and just being able to tell people’s stories and giving them a platform to tell their stories.”

According to Brown, the C4C plans to continue the podcast in the future. He said they hope it allows the Pitt community to stay connected during the pandemic and after it passes, but most importantly, they want to continue amplifying voices within the local community.

“I don’t want to prescribe emotions or any kind of outcome on the listener and I hope what we have done is present stories in an honest way,” Brown said. “All we can do is be a megaphone for those stories. The last thing we would want to do is exploit someone’s story for our own gain.”