Change is the one constant in Seattle’s Central District. Gentrification has displaced many low-income families and small businesses. Median home prices have soared past a half-million dollars. African Americans, who made up more than 70 percent of the population in the 1970s, now only account for about 20 percent.
The changes are especially challenging for business owners, who are dealing with both a new demographic landscape and an evolving technological one.
Their experiences were the inspiration for “Soul of Seattle,” a five-part documentary miniseries by Matthew Jackson, Domonique Meeks and Freddy Mora, all recent graduates of the Information School’s Master of Science in Information Management program.
The trio made the films as part of their Capstone project, the culmination of their MSIM degree program at the University of Washington. In the films, Central District entrepreneurs share their personal experiences with local history and culture, as well as how they’ve adapted to new technologies.
“This project is very important to us and the community because as we see our community changing, the question really is, what are we going to do about it?” Meeks said in an epilogue accompanying the films.
The films explore topics such as historical preservation, how business owners are using technology to innovate, and access to technology among people of color.
“We can learn a lot about technologies in the classroom, but it really does help to see on the front lines what these entrepreneurs are using, what kinds of things they leverage and what services they lean on in order to build their businesses,” Meeks said in an interview.
While some small-business owners have been reluctant to embrace technology, others have embraced it to maintain relationships with customers. Still, they are often faced with a deluge of choices that can lead to “analysis paralysis” – a fear of making the wrong choice when presented with too many options, Jackson said.
“Even if somebody isn’t afraid of technology, it is mind-boggling how many different services and platforms are out there that you could use to build your business,” he said.
By touching on technology, information needs and cultural preservation, the project dovetailed well with the group’s studies in the iSchool’s MSIM program, Mora said.
“What’s great about this project and unique is that we’ve been taking issues and concerns of marginalized and underrepresented communities when it comes to information access, information flow and information technology, and kind of surfacing those and how it’s used in a real-world situation,” he said.
Meeks said the group hopes the films will be resources both for Seattle’s present small-business owners and its future ones. Business owners who watch the films may find out how their peers use technology and find resources, and young people can learn from the experiences of those who have been through decades of change.
“Our goal is to have an intergenerational conversation where the younger folks can understand the story of what it really takes to be an entrepreneur,” Meeks said.
Since completing their degrees in June, the filmmakers have been working to put the films in front of their intended audience. They were interviewed recently for “What’s Good 206,” a KCTS-TV program that focuses on stories produced by and for young adults. The films are all available on YouTube and at Ambassadorstories.com.
“We wanted to have a medium where people would actually take time to watch,” Jackson said. “Nobody would read a 25-page paper, but maybe they’ll sit down and watch a six-minute video.”