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  • violin section of orchestra

Students Activate Oral Histories in Black Power Archives

April 20, 2023

By Jarrod E. Fasching

Evolving programming offered in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication has heightened focus on the value and impact of interdisciplinary programming and projects. In order to foster more of these interdisciplinary opportunities across the college, Dean Dan Hosken has funded a pilot grant program to support exploratory collaborations between faculty and students from different departments. Supported projects will provide transformational learning experiences for our students and serve as foundations to establish more interdisciplinary programs intrinsically linked to our educational offerings.

One of more than 10 new interdisciplinary grant projects partners professors and students in Animation, Graphic Design, CTVA, and Music with CSUN’s Tom & Ethel Bradley Center to create a multimedia/animation short film based upon oral history recordings and archival images from the Black Power Archives Oral History Project. The faculty heading up this project are Aglaia Mortcheva, Assistant Professor of Animation, Shirin Raban Esther, Lecturer of Visual Communication, and Dr. Kyle Simpson, Assistant Professor of Music and Chair of Media Composition.

Having identified the medium for this visionary project, the next step was to select a story from the Black Power Archives Oral History Project to engage with. This collection contains hundreds of hours of oral histories documenting Black experience in Los Angeles during the 20th century including everyday people, entertainers, politicians, sports figures, civil rights leaders, and black power activists. Students decided to work with an interview from Kicheko Davis, a former member of the US Organization, who discusses her leadership role in the Black Power group and how they created the internationally celebrated holiday known as Kwanzaa.

Across the Spring 2023 semester, students have primarily been focused on preproduction and background research, establishing a pitch deck, reviewing the collection of archival materials from the Bradley Center and engaging with Ms. Davis, and production planning. According to Professor Mortcheva, because they are “approaching the project not as a class assignment but as professional training and experience, when students commit, they are in until it’s done. They have to respond to feedback and make changes and do this structured collaborative effort. They’ll learn to defend ideas, defer to larger group decisions, and must come to this project with confidence but not ego.”

So far, students in Animation, Graphic Design, and Illustration have starting working on the visual design, building storyboards and structure for the project. This initial design work is then being used by students in the Music Department’s Media Composition option to start composing original music that will build emotional connection to the story. Professor Raban shared that “because students have different backgrounds, [the faculty] are working to encourage and support student’s work and visions while also giving them full control over the final design and execution of the film. [Students] have different expertise as well as experience overlaps, so we hope this model allows them to learn from each other.”




Wishing to honor the history, culture, and heritage that informs African American experience, students are doing deep research into visual styles from different regions of Africa. They will consult with Dr. Karin Stanford, Professor of Africana Studies, and University Library archivist/historian Keith Rice to make sure their colors, patterns, and images resonate with communities depicted. Student composers are taking a similar tack to ensure their soundtrack hits the appropriate notes. Professor Simpson shared that in the “second half of semester, students are doing research into 1920s L.A. music scene and Black music history, as well as musical facets from West Africa to inform the tenets of Kwanzaa. They’ll be challenged to determine how to produce music that’s meaningful and references the visuals from their collaborators.”

As the end of the Spring semester approaches, this multimedia project prepares to transition from its preparation and planning stage. The Fall semester will provide these students with just 16 weeks to execute production and post-production, including editing and scoring. At this halfway point, all three faculty leaders say this has been an incredibly positive experience for them and their students, and they believe this film will inspire further projects of this type. “This short documentary is about making people excited to learn about a part of history they might not know – one that is beautiful and culturally representative. This is part of a larger story and will help to elevate and provide access to materials from the Bradley Center,” shared Professor Raban. Concurring with that opinion, Professor Mortcheva added that “this could be the first of future projects using materials from the Bradley Center. The achieve holds lots of civil rights interviews, imagery, and writings about cultural life of Black America at that time. It’s important to showcase this incredible resource available at CSUN and inspire future engagement with these materials. We hope to offer this film to the Watts Civil Rights Museum to make it available for others and that our work will be an inspiration for future projects.”

We encourage everyone to learn more about the Bradley Center Black Power Archives Oral History Project at CSUN, and to keep an eye out for this exciting film’s premiere toward the end of the 2023 calendar year.