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Joana Vicente and Questlove

Inside The "Made In NY" Media Center With Questlove And Joana Vicente

It's one of the last attempts by outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to grow independent, digitally minded film and entertainment companies here.

There are 8.5 million people in New York. Over 130,000 of them work in traditional film and television. Many of those work in Manhattan, but more and more they’re migrating to Brooklyn—or as Borough President Marty Markowitz calls it, "Hollywood East." And of those, a small handful have landed at the "Made in NY" Media Center, which just this month welcomed its first anchor tenants and incubator members into the street-level DUMBO facility.

Located at 30 John Street, the Media Center is one of Michael Bloomberg’s final attempts as Mayor of the City of New York to "bring innovation to the local media, digital, and entertainment industries," and to grow small companies in the process.

Construction progressed quickly after the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment announced last October that the Independent Filmmaker’s Project (IFP), had been selected from among the proposals submitted for a multiuse facility that would "strengthen and grow New York City's media sector": The Center launched with a party on October 1, and invited registered members into its community working space on Oct. 15. On November 1, the incubator opened, offering desks (and other amenities) to selected media-makers, tech startups, and creative professionals across multiple disciplines for them to network, collaborate, meet artists-and-experts-in-residence, and talk energetically about creative plans and new business opportunities. A year ago, the facility was a parking garage; today, it’s a nascent creative hub.

"The birth of any new art movement," said inaugural artist-in-residence Questlove at the Media Center’s press launch, "from hip-hop, to punk to Dada, has a center, a place to meet up and collaborate … to launch ideas into the culture." This one is a 20,000-square-feet ecosystem that funnels artists and entrepreneurs into creative business and new media experiments.

The Center will begin operating 24/7 in January (the projected date was Nov. 1, but construction is still ongoing: The café isn’t open, the website isn’t live, and the Center didn’t receive its final certificate of occupancy until the theater opened in early December). Classes have started, thanks to a partnership with General Assembly, and at least 50 people are working in the furnished community lounge and workspace ($150 a month for membership) and at personal desks in the incubator ($450 a month for membership). Already the Center has hosted events like The Future State of Entertainment, mixers with Dogfish Accelerator, screenings of Gotham Independent Film Award-nominated films, and open houses for perspective new members every week.

IFP executive director Joana Vicente expects the Center to be in full swing and at 100% capacity within the next six months. "It’s starting to feel alive," she says, referring to the web series creators, app developers, investigative journalists, and traditional filmmakers who are beginning to utilize the space.

Moving in as anchor tenants are a few familiar and established names, including Astronauts Wanted—founded by TV executive Judy McGrath to "guide the development and creation of entertainment and marketing content targeting millennials and their successors, Generation Z"—and Playmatics, which "builds highly engaging games and user experiences on the Internet, in social media networks, and on a variety of connected gaming and transmedia platforms." Both companies are what Vicente calls "corporate community builders" (memberships starts at $12,000 a year): They’ll pitch ideas to incubator members, and members are invited to pitch to them. "We want to help people have careers and be sustainable," Vicente explains. "Someone investing in his or her own project might also need some money to supplement, so the idea is to bring in bigger media companies who are interested in having access to new talent."

Also moving in are total upstarts, including Seed & Spark, the world's first crowdfunding and streaming-distribution site created for independent film; Blank on Blank, a nonprofit digital studio that turns lost audio interviews with cultural icons into an animation series for YouTube and PBS; and Radish Lab, a full-service agency representing people and projects with a positive impact.

Out of 280 total individuals and companies to apply to the Center’s private incubator, only 50 were been selected. IFP’s priority is variety; that’s what will help each project grow.

"Technology has a profound impact on media," said Questlove, who suggested that he might create the new Tonight Show theme at the Media Center.

To that end, Vicente describes the type of interaction the Center facilitates: A filmmaker has an idea, and then she bounces it off a group sitting nearby, perhaps some app developers, who help her evolve that idea into a better one, or they may direct her to a web series creator in the next pod for another way to execute it.

These interactions create the sense of a village, a collaborative and creative tech community in which the symbiotic relationships help all art and small business projects succeed. Says Vicente, "that’s what we’re hoping to foster in this environment, more of these synergies and serendipitous encounters.

[Image: Flickr user Nycmayorsoffice | Spencer T Tucker]

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