Open Signal’s Director of Equity Wins National Award

By Daniela Serna

Open Signal’s Elisa Barrios has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Emerging Leader Award from the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), the national organization for community media centers. One of four awards delivered each year by the ACM, the Emerging Leader Award recognizes a professional under 40 years of age, working in the field of community media, who embodies the values of building community through media on a consistent basis.

Elisa won this award in recognition of her equity-forward work at Open Signal since joining the organization in 2015. Currently the Director of Equity and Community Media, she has designed, led and contributed to programs that push forward equity initiatives while lowering barriers to access to mediamaking skills and tools. Programs include:
• Summer camps designed for youth of all ages, focused on film, animation, and viral video (including Reel Voices, a camp specifically designed for women or non-binary identified youth);
• Smart Access, a training program that hosted digital literacy classes in low-income and BIPOC communities across the Portland metro area;
• Echo AiR, an after-school program designed to give youth the tools they need to develop career-building media skills. Students received thoughtful mentorship from media arts professionals, including staff from Wacom, a graphics tablet company, and Instrument, a digital agency that works with Google and Nike.

Tucker Johnson, former Open Signal youth media student, shares: “I can say that being able to work together truly was a formative experience that shaped my future. Elisa was a joy to work with and taught me a great deal about what it means to be an educator—including being able to adapt the difficult processes behind digital media to a format understandable by any age. I have seen her apply this same ability to tie media to activism in very accessible ways.”

In addition to her programmatic work, Elisa is a member of Open Signal’s unconventional shared leadership team, in which department leads collectively share responsibility for the health of the organization, making decisions by consensus.

Speaking about her work, Elisa says: “Effective leadership begins with truly believing that change is possible, and by being willing to model challenges and take risks. Digital equity in our work goes beyond just offering a space for creative expression; the tools of technology give voice, agency, power and even in some cases, it means survival for our community.”

Elisa is also a leader at other organizations that work directly with communities to rebuild inequitable systems. She has been a part of the Alliance for Media Art + Culture’s national Youth Media Network, a network that supports innovative and emerging models of practice within the fields of youth media. As an active member of the City of Portland’s Digital Inclusion Network, she has worked with a consortium of diverse community-based organizations, public agencies and businesses to raise awareness and develop solutions to bridge the digital divide locally. She is also the board president and trauma-informed trainer and camp director for The Healing Circle, a summer camp for child survivors of sexual abuse.

Watch Elisa’s acceptance speech here: