Annie Folger, Founding Board Member and current Executive Director of the Media Center, will retire at the end of January, after over 30 years of service to the community. “It’s time,” she says. Annie has asked to be released without fanfare and parades. Annie is no wild partier. However, our Annie is a revolutionary.
“I was working in AT&T’s Engineering department in Cincinnati when I heard that the guy who ran the video production equipment in AT&T’s Sales Training Center was leaving. I got the job and started by videotaping and playing back practice sales presentations. When I heard that the videocassette had been introduced, I proposed sending out training updates on cassettes rather than bringing in sales people from around the country — a money saving idea that blossomed into producing video training packages to keep field sales personnel up on the latest products without having to travel to learn about them. It became clear to me that video was a tool that could do far more than simply entertain. It could inspire, educate, organize and galvanize a community in new and unexplored ways. That became my mission in life, to explore video as a way to transform civic life. It was a revelation which started a revolution in me.” Annie Folger, Staff Interview
When Annie moved to the Bay Area, she co-founded Choosing Our Future, a non-partisan organization that developed an interactive dialogue process for broadcast TV. She authored the bumper sticker, “Let’s Put the VISION in Television!” It was during her tenure with Choosing Our Future that Annie’s devotion to community media was cemented and a new vision began to form. She began working with like-minded video activists. The Mid-Peninsula Access Corporation (MPAC) was incorporated on Annie’s 40th birthday, June 19, 1985, and she joined the founding Board of Directors exactly one year later. Annie was operating the cameras in the original broadcast booth at City Hall when the first live Palo Alto City Council meeting was aired on TV on October 16, 1989. Today, citizens may take visibility and connectivity for granted, but imagine the precedent set that one autumn night. No longer did one have to go down to the meetings or slog through transcripts at the library to stay informed. One could watch city government live from home, or on video replay right on TV. Transparency keeps government healthy and citizens engaged. What a revolution!
In 1990, Annie hired Elliot Margolies as the first Executive Director. Together they forged a 27 year friendship that made it possible for them to build, with lots of help and support, a tiny media empire to serve the needs of all citizens in the midpeninsula. At the time of its founding, MPAC shared space with Cable Co-op, the operators of the first Cable TV system serving the area. For less than $10 a month citizens could view commercial cable channels and watch local programming on Cable Co-op Channel 6. In the studio and with a tiny collection of donated cameras, MPAC staff and volunteers created the first community TV programming in Palo Alto. This was another revolution! Local people controlling and producing programming that reflected the character, issues, concerns and faces of the community. MPAC took citizens from video consumers to video creators.
Yet another revolution took place when Annie and Elliot realized that the studio could be an electronic meeting place for citizens to deepen their understanding and connection through constructive exchanges of ideas and opinions. Prompted by citizen concerns over the first Gulf War in 1991, MPAC produced a series of live shows to provide a platform for citizens to comment, reflect and share their reactions LIVE on Cable TV. The reaction to this type of programming was overwhelmingly positive. Even former Secretary of State George Shultz chimed in after the program to make contact with one of the presenters. When people come together over issues of mutual concern, and take the time to listen and respond, real change happens.
A significant milestone in Annie’s career was the merging of MPAC and Cable Coop’s local origination staff to create the Midpeninsula Community Media Center, as we know it today. With a nest egg Legacy Fund from Cable Coop, Annie put on a hard hat, rolled up her sleeves and managed the acquisition of the space at 900 San Antonio Road, oversaw the buildout and “green” retrofitting of the building, plus the construction of the largest studio in the Bay Area that is open to the public.
But now, in the words of Annie’s favorite balladeer, “the times they are a’changing’.” Her next iteration awaits, but she is challenging us to lead a new revolution: that of creating a robust platform for community conversations. Annie imagines a world where the Media Center works with community partners, government leaders and citizens to build and use a dynamic platform to enable citizens in the Midpeninsula and throughout the Bay Area to re-envision American democracy. Annie predicts “the dawn of a revolution of citizen participation. It’s time!” While many of us look and see only apathy, hate, fear and chaos, our Annie Folger sees engagement, love, courage and a rich harvest for us all on the far horizon. These are the values to which she urges us to rise. This is Annie’s challenge to us. This is Annie’s revolution legacy.
Annie Folger, you are beloved and will be missed. We promise to fulfill your vision to the best of our abilities. We thank you for your years of dedicated service to the cause of community media empowerment and wish you the best as you move into your next chapter, your next revolution.