Artists in their own words: Darcy McKinnon
Who: Darcy McKinnon
What: Graphic designer, documentary film maker and executive director of New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC)
Artist's Chosen Location for Interview: NOVAC
Q: Tell me what it is about storytelling that resonates with you.
A: It’s a key link, or at least a pathway to agency. When you think about great, high-performing companies, they’re really good at telling their stories. Think about those commercials you see that make you cry — like where the dad is running out of the bleachers to his kid, and you don’t even care what the product is. When I watch that commercial, I’m sitting there bawling because they’re being effective storytellers.
So when we see local people and organizations who represent the most vulnerable and the people who need the most in our society — and one of the things that could assist them in getting what they need is their ability to tell their own story — we want to help with that. People who are disenfranchised often don’t have the pathways to tell their own stories. That’s, then, a really powerful role that media can play.
For instance, we do Virtuous Video where we connect local filmmakers with issues in the community or community organizations, so we work a lot with New Orleans schools. We’ve also been doing documentary portraits of library users to help support the libraries. That’s often the role of a documentary — helping people tell their stories — and we want to assist the filmmakers in that. So anything from training, to networking nights, to fiscal sponsorship, and connecting filmmakers with resources. Really anything we can do to help the storytellers make their films, we do.
Because you can’t get what you need unless you say, ‘I need this’. If everyone has their own agency and ability to tell their own stories well, there can be this tangible benefit for people who need it. That’s what I think our pathway can be toward a more just society.
Q: If you could create a festival — although NOVAC already creates festivals — that currently isn’t represented, what would you create?
A: Heavy Metal Karaoke Festival.
Q: If you were to build something with all the extras you have at the NOVAC office, what would you build?
A: Oh, I know exactly what I’d build. My friend’s husband used to do this. He was an electronics engineer, so he had a lot of Styrofoam inserts from the boxes. He would build these 10-foot robots that they put on their lawn.
I would build giant robots out of the tape cartridges, boxes and foam inserts. Right now, we’re four-years into a project of archiving the past 43 years of video. We have over 2,000 video assets that represent local filmmakers, community events other people’s work, and we’re working on preserving that analog video and moving it to digital. We could make so many robots, and they wouldn’t be heavy at all.
Actually, we could have a NOVAC event where we all build robot sculptures. We could have a giant robot-building party.
Q: If your sense of sight and sound were taken away, who or what would you still recognize in your life and how?
A: I would definitely recognize my family and friends — I know exactly how they smell — and my dog because she loves me by being on me. Right against my leg. I’d recognize my neighborhood 'cause it smells rather intensely.
I could navigate Burgundy Street by my sense of smell for sure. By my house there’s the coffee roaster and then you get by the high school, and there’s a park that smells like dog poop. The next block has a bunch of jasmine on it. Then you get to Bud Rips, and the smell of bar cleaner is strong. At that point you’re moving out to the other coffee roaster, and then you’re getting into the French Quarter.
I could get around a lot of streets in New Orleans with just my sense of smell.
Q: What would you rather have: details about the individual parts of a machine or an explanation of how the machine works as a whole?
A: How it works. I think that the Internet and different resources provide us with the information to find individual objects, and with the right research skills, you can discover what those parts are. The relationship is a harder element to describe and a key… well, it’s making me think of a documentary I worked on years ago.
It was about a Gulf War veteran who drove a tank down the highway in San Diego about twenty years ago. The film is called Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story. The veteran was trying to communicate with City Hall, and he stole a tank from a decommissioned armory and drove it down the highway. The back-story is that with the decommissioning of this army base there was an explosion in both religious observance and meth use in this community. So many people lost their jobs and their livelihood, and I was assisting with the editing of the interviews with the police who were talking about the rise of meth use.
One of the cops said, ‘To know who’s on meth, you just drive around the neighborhood at three in the morning. The person standing underneath the streetlight balancing their checkbook is on meth. The person who’s Camaro is in 700 parts on their lawn, and they’re working on it at three in the morning—that person is on meth’.
Taking things apart and knowing those individual parts is almost a more destructive act. Being able to talk about their relational value is more difficult and it makes for this really beautiful outcome.
Darcy Mckinnon is the executive director at NOVAC, which is a non-profit organization that started in the 70s when video technology became portable. There are only about six organizations left from that generation, and NOVAC is the oasis of the South that’s one of the six.
NOVAC will be putting on Sync-Up Cinema, which is a free festival with screenings, panels, and events that focus on Louisiana filmmaking, culture and music. Sync-up Cinema is from April 27-29 and housed at the brand new George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center.