Photo by Jenny Yarmoluk.
Born in Stockton but raised in San Diego, the Northern California native only started working in our region in the last 10 years. Before that, she had been involved in all aspects of collaborative documentary production, working in South Sudan, Uganda, South Africa, Ethiopia, Ireland, Mexico, and across the United States.
However, this career path into media making was more a result or circumstance than choice. A well-known rebel-rouser, ross worked in social justice campaigns during her undergraduate years at UC Davis (she “majored in activism”). The local coverage on ross was less than flattering – and not even correct. “I decided to work in this field partially because the messages I was trying to convey were not reported adequately. Working as a media maker allowed me to represent issues in a creative way and effect positive change.”
The Highs and Lows of Hybridity
Forging her own path has made it difficult to pin her down conventionally. “The kind of art I do isn’t widely recognized. It’s not traditional like a sculpture or a painting, or cut and dry in terms of a single creative process. But I’ve learned to embrace my hybridity. I no longer feel the need to ‘fit-in’ to existing categories and am excited to find people/organizations that I’m a good match with.”
Defining herself: ross’s work rests at the intersection of art, community development, and journalism.
ross defines herself as a documentary artist that collaborates with communities to create spaces where people can speak to each other about issues important to them and feel heard. In any given project she’ll “conduct” as a researcher, convener, facilitator, project manager, and maker.
Straddling the fields of art, community development, and journalism, her practice results in film, audio, interactive websites and mapping, photo galleries, communication platforms, and well-produced public events. Alone, these forms are great, but when presented together, they convey not only her strengths in content curation but also paint a rich story of a community or issue. With each project, ross hopes to increase issue awareness, build capacity and relationships, and effect community change.
Producing such layered and collaborative work requires a lot of patience: “I work at the speed of inclusion…which is very slow. Relationships and trust have to be built which all takes time. I try to be transparent and make sure the processes and outcomes of a project are co-created and benefit everyone involved.”
Finding Her Way Into Public Radio
Community Engaged Journalism: Working collaboratively to discover, understand, and voice community needs, concerns, and aspirations. The process of community engagement helps us learn, develop and report the stories that impact and inspire. It’s how we surface a wide array of perspectives and make sure the voices in our stories are as diverse as our community
Most people aren’t so lucky to create their own position, but that was the case with ross at Capital Public Radio. Knowing her reputation in the community, ross was initially invited to work on Capital Public Radio’s community engagement pilot project: A View from Here: Hidden Hunger [See “Make it a Farm-to-Fork Night”]. The success of the project gave ross a full-time position at the station as Senior Community Engagement Strategist.
In her element: The artist is working to make community engagement a priority at Capital Public Radio.
Photo by Jenny Yarmoluk.
And her title isn’t lip service to community engagement. ross is working to make the concept a deeper part of the radio station’s culture through targeted strategy and a dedication to producing one in-depth documentary per year. Issues covered in each documentary will be shared online, on air, and on the ground.
What’s Left for ross in 2016
ross is currently focused on a handful of in-depth projects:
Photo by Andrew Nixon of Capital Public Radio.
(1) Grit and Grace: A Year At Encina High School: High school can be hard enough for students, but with 22 languages spoken, some of the lowest test scores in the region and life’s complications in a low-income neighborhood, the students and staff of Encina High School face a challenging year. From now till next summer, Capital Public Radio will report on (and with) diverse teens and teachers as they navigate their way through the school year. ross will be leading storytelling workshops for students and staff so they can learn to tell their own stories through social media.
(2) Affordable Housing in Sacramento: There is an affordable housing crisis in the Sacramento region and Capital Public Radio will be digging in to report on it early next year. To get started ross is meeting with the Sacramento Housing Alliance and exploring how they might use a mobile phone based community platform to assist affordable housing residents to communicate their issues and concerns.
(3) Pop-Up Public: A civic storytelling project that ross is creating in collaboration with neighborhood leaders around Sacramento County. Community groups, neighborhood associations, and Capital Public Radio will bring residents together in selected neighborhoods to see how they view their communities — and envision their futures. The final product? Fingers-crossed, a podcast and a variety of pop-up events centered around a traveling “storymobile.”
Make it a Farm-to-Fork Night
In honor of our September “Make it a Night Campaign,” we had to know what the interdisciplinary artist thought of Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork movement.
According to ross, the Sacramento region “is on the path to making our food system is sustainable, equitable, and just because [those involved in the movement] are working to tackle the underlying issues. This movement isn’t just for foodies. Sure, there are chefs and restaurateurs involved but there is a much wider network of educators, service providers, policy advocates, and community leaders all working together to generate local solutions to alleviate hunger in our region.”
ross (back row, center) with the table hosts she recruited and trained to lead table conversations during “Hunger in the Farm-to-Fork Capital: A Community Conversation.”
Strong words from someone who knows a thing or two about Sacramento’s food systems landscape; her community media project, HiddenHungerStorybooth.com, shares the personal stories from the front lines of food insecurity. Click here, to hear audio clips, read transcripts, and peruse a visual storyboard documenting the challenges – and opportunities – of fighting hunger in these communities. You can even download a conversation guide to host your own dialogues about hunger in your neighborhood.
Off the Cutting Room Floor:
We couldn’t resist sharing these nuggets of wisdom and fun factoids from our lively two-part interview with ross:
-ross is currently finishing up her Masters of Fine Arts from Goddard College, her second graduate degree (Her first? An Masters of Science in Community Development from UC Davis).
-What makes for great storytelling?
1) Forging strong and lasting relationships with communities
2) Building upon solid research
3) Utilizing innovative and interactive technology
4) Editing and using the most compelling content A.K.A. “stuff that knocks you in the knees”
-While the community arts program she founded, UC Davis’s Art of Regional Change, is no more, ross and her various university networks were instrumental in convincing the Syracuse-based Imagining America to set up shop at UC Davis. Launched at the 1999 White House Conference, Imagining America “creates democratic spaces to foster and advance publicly engaged scholarship that draws on arts, humanities, and design.”
-Her current position as Capital Public Radio’s Senior Community Engagement Strategist is her first full-time job.
-Her advice on getting engaged with the arts: Find your joy and dive right in! “Get out of your comfort zone and sample different creative activities. You’ll naturally find out what you love. Then contact arts groups directly. You’ll discover that there are infinite ways to get involved.”
-Holding public events is her favorite means of telling a story. “I design purposeful, choreographed experiences that springboard public conversations and create ‘collisions’ among people who may not have known each other previously.”
ross (center) directing the KVIE documentary, “Up From The UnderStory”, about community revitalization efforts in the Blue Mountain region of Calaveras County.
Keep Up with jesikah maria ross:
A Sample of Her Work:
Restore/Restory: A People’s History of the Cache Creek Nature Reserve