SCHOLARS IN WASHINGTON, D.C., are taking to the airwaves to bring the humanities into the
community . "How do you educate your community? That is a
challenge," says E. Ethelbert Miller, a poet, scholar, and host of a one-hour
interview show Humanities Profiled, which airs on DCTV , the District's public
access cable station.
The humanities council of
Washington, D.C., has turned to broadcast media, " to preserve the District of
Columbia's cultural legacy while transforming the nation's capital into a community
", says executIve director Joy Ford Austin. For a third of the cost of a tradtional
humanities event, which may bring an audience of fhirty
to seventy-five people, the council can produce a television show that has
the potential to reach all cable subscribers in the District-currently 400,000 households.
The council currently airs four shows on DCTV
."I see the
Humanities Council of Washington as playing a key role in helping the city understand
itself. Our city is changing and we need to be aware of what is happening to our
neighborhoods. We need to examine our values and beliefs, Miller said in a recent interview.
To feature shows and viewpoints of local interest-which
often do not find a place on commercial television-DCTV provides
programming to anyone who wants to produce and air a show. "People of different
professions and different ethnic backgrounds are watching the show and learning and
enjoying," Miller says. He regards public access television as a way to spark dialog
on issues of local interest. ll'When we talk about humanities in our community and when we
talk about building citizenship and training young people here is an effective
way--we know they are watching
In anyone month the council has
thirty to forty hours of television programming" much of it in primetime. Although
there is no ratings system for noncommercial television, a survey by the cable company
found that approximately 11,000 viewers visited public access channels each hour .Each
show is broadcast for two to three months, in different time slots. "We are getting a
lot for our money over time," Austin says.
Humanities Profiled, Miller selects guests whom he believes are important to
Washington" D.C." and who have experience with a range of humanities
disciplines. For a recent show on Duke Ellington, he assembled a panel consisting of a
jazz musician, an archivist of the Duke Ellington collection at the Smithsonian, and a
poet, to discuss how Ellington's musical legacy, genius, and humanity inspires poets,
students, and musicians in the District today.
A show featuring Scholar
Dr. Sulayman Nyang, taped in N ovember 2001 , explored the fundamental beliefs and
history of Islam, as well as its future in the global environment. To extend the
educational, value of his show beyond its air time, Miller hopes to place copies of this
interview in prisons.
Other shows have
featured local figures such as Delores Kendrick, the poet laureate of Washington, D.C.;
Ann Lowe, an award-winning fashion designer; and Barbara Franco, the executive director of
the Washington Historical Society .
produce quality shows, Austin says, "I knew enough to know we had to have two cameras
and we had to have a director, and we had to have the opportunity to do some editing and
research afterwards. To create its own look and distinguish it from other shows taped in
the DCTV studio, Humanities Profiled is shot on location throughout the city.
Locations are chosen for their relevance to either the guest or the subject. The Ellington
show was shot at Bohemian Caverns, a historic jazz club in the U Street neighborhood,
where Ellington lived and played.
Although Miller has a
gentle demeanor and cracks jokes to put his guests at ease, he is not afraid to ask tough
questions. "In society, it's in the humanities where we have to have dialog,"
he says. "So when I bring people on my show, I am going to ask them the key
questions. If not, I feel I compromise myself and do not provide the viewers with the
type of program they should receive. Because if you don't have people talking and feeling
passionate, then you are not engaging your citizensl". And that becomes key for the
protection of our democracy."