I am writing to invite you deeper into the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. I lead a lot of tours of the IMC. Some of you know more of the history than I do. The IMC has been around, in various forms, for almost 20 years. The IMC has been at 202 S. Broadway in Urbana since 2005, but you would be surprised how many people have never been inside.I lead the tours because I have found that when people see the Books to Prisoners’ space—the long room of books shelves, the folding tables precariously sliding off the top shelf—when people see ten university students working in pairs to find the right set of books that fulfills the prison inmate’s reading and information needs, that must weigh less than three pounds total; when people see the dictionaries and imagine themselves locked up and needing to communicate via hand-written letter with not only their spouse and children but also their lawyer, without access to a dictionary; when people see all this firsthand, they are speechless.
Then, I take my guests to the next door. In there, volunteers are piecing together bikes from parts of donated bikes. The visitors smell the scent of oil and rubber from hundreds of bikes and sense the passion of the expert and novice working together to take apart the gummed-up gear changer, clean it and put it back together.
We stop by the costume closet next. Some people get excited about borrowing a hat for their next band gig. Others get excited about donating the costumes from the kids’ last Halloween outing.
Then we move on to Makerspace, where we see woodworking projects, Python hackers, sewing classes, Hospice Hearts volunteers making cat toys, needlework, knitting, and tools for making all sorts of projects.
These are just a few of the working groups of the IMC. The Bike Project is its own 501(c)(3) now, but all the others choose to let the IMC be their umbrella so they can focus on their work. WRFU, the Public i, and the Zine Archive all have a home in the IMC. The IMC also has fiscal sponsorship relationships with other groups, like the new bail bond group. The IMC has a mission to provide a space for voices that are often silenced, but its passion is to be a nest for working groups like these.
To house and support all these wonderful groups, the IMC needs to also pay its bills. We do that by renting out the venue spaces on the main floor—the stage area, the sunroom, and the gallery. We also rent out artist studio space and office space.
People often say that walking into the IMC by mistake is the best thing they have done that day. By the end of the tour, we are no longer strangers living separately, we are building a community together.