Rachel Otwell

Journalist / The Scene Blog


Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces WUIS' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Fridays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

 She's a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

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The Scene: Magic + Art & Music (Lots Of It)

22 hours ago

It's time for The Scene! We have lots to tell you about this week, so let's get to it:

Events discussed this week include:


'SamJam: Unplugged on the Prairie' is inspired by its namesake, Sam Oswald. Sam was born with an illness that is not known by many - and can result in a host of issues including spine damage and tumors. The disease is called Neurofibromatosis, or N.F. At the age of 30, Sam, from Carlinville, has waged many battles against the illness, and maintains a positive attitude.

The Legacy Project

Learning about the past to change the future: it's a goal of many academic institutions. But when it comes to the LGBT community - not enough has been done to memorialize and honor figures who've been overlooked due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's the opinion of Victor Salvo - founder and director of The Legacy Project.


Hundreds of artists and administrators met last week to discuss the state of the arts in Illinois.

Politics dominated the discussion, with a focus on ever-shrinking budgets for many arts groups, including the Illinois Arts Council Agency - the state department that oversees government spending on the arts.
Funding for the council has diminished from about $20 million dollars in 2007 to less than $9 million in 2012.

Ra Joy heads Arts Alliance Illinois - the state's largest such advocacy and membership group:

Rachel Otwell // WUIS

Kevin Bradford is one of the founders of Black Sheep, the all-ages, punk music venue on the corner of South Grand Ave. and 11th Street in Springfield.  It’s at the center of a plethora of indie and d.i.y. activities in Springfield’s once-blighted Southtown neighborhood. 


Have you ever had a secret haunt you? Something you would never tell a soul? Or maybe just a crush you don't want anyone to know about - or a weird quirk you'd rather keep to yourself. Frank Warren wants to know. He came of age in Springfield and he now travels the world with his collection of secrets, perhaps the largest in the world.


Chicano culture is the inspiration for much art, be it musical, literary, or visual. Eric Garcia has been drawing from his roots as an artist who often addresses stereotypes about Mexican-Americans and a largely forgotten history of colonization.

It's that time again. Can you believe it!? Well you better... Because it is... Here we go:  

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Marriage for same-sex couples is now the law of the land. While it took effect in Illinois in 2014, the United States Supreme Court made it available across the country earlier this year. So what's next in the push for rights in the LGBT community? That's a question I posed at a recent conference in Springfield:

Back in June of this year - a young white man walked into an historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a fixture in the local civil rights movement there. The man proceeded to take part in a bible study, and then shoot 9 people dead.  The event has added to the national dialogue concerning race and violence in this country. 

Illinois State Musem

It's been a contentious topic whether or not to close the Illinois State Museum. The governor has called for closing all the facilities in the state's museum system as a way to save money for a state budget that's very much in the red.

Meanwhile, many say that plan is short-sighted. The museum houses a variety of objects and artifacts that tell the story of our state. It also contains an expanse of fine art that has been donated over the years.


This week, The Scene decided to get out on the scene. We hit up Dumb Records (1107 S. Grand Ave.) Scott Faingold and I have been working on an audio-doc about Black Sheep as it gears up for its 10-year anniversary later this month. Dumb is an example of one of the efforts that has spawned from a culture of youth who love music, and have created an environment to make it thrive.


Pana, Illinois used to be known for its flowers . It was called the City of Roses , and at one point there were over 100 greenhouses there. Things have changed over the decades, though. In the city of 5,500 - about a third of people live below the poverty level. The town that was a mecca style for florists and had a bustling down-town has gone through the changes many small towns in the Midwest have seen - businesses have closed and drug-use has escalated.

All it takes is four simple notes and a snap of the fingers to bring to mind the vision of the Addams family. The family was created as the opposite of the American ideal, with their obsession of all things weird and morbid. And yet, they are a lovable group of weirdos. The family is honored as the stars of a modern musical, and it's being performed at The Hoogland in Springfield. It opens on Friday and runs next weekend too. (More info here.)

courtesy of Gus Gordon

Join us for this week's version of The Scene - we'll talk with the head of The Hoogland Center for the Arts, Gus Gordan. And he'll be joined by Julie Staley (Morticia) and Vanessa Ferguson (Grandma) who are in the cast of The Addams Family musical, which opens on Friday and runs through next weekend. (More info/tickets here.)

TUNE IN ! ! !

Other events discussed this week included:

Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2015 FOX Broadcasting

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and guess that the majority of public radio listeners aren't also huge fans of "reality" T.V. Running with that assumption, I'm also going to guess not everyone reading this has already heard of Chicago's Tommy Walton. Well let me tell you...

Rachel Otwell // WUIS

When you think of a barbershop chorus, you probably picture men performing.  But plenty of women also join in the fun. The Sweet Adelines International Organization has been around for 70 years now.  One of the choirs, based in Springfield, has been hitting all the right notes:

courtesy of Kristin Wheeler

Love isn't always easy. Just about any couple that's been married for at least ten years will be quick to tell you that. It takes compromise and understanding, and sometimes - courage. The story of Jane Eyre is about that - but also a young orphan who goes on to be an independent and righteous woman, even though a patriarchal society makes that difficult.

Rachel Otwell // WUIS

This week we take some time to get to know two local figures in the hip-hop scene. Guests hosts are Aaron "Uncanny" Phillips, and Torch (of Torch Tuesday fame.)  Listen up!

Rachel Otwell // WUIS

The cover story from the Illinois Times that came out last Thursday is titled, "The high cost of budget cuts: When Illinois slashes social services, the vulnerable suffer." The author, Patrick Yeagle, joined me to talk about which social service agencies could disappear as a result of the state's budget impasse and proposed cuts. 

courtesy of Timothy Russell

If you are a longtime resident of Springfield who enjoyed the local bar and music scene in the late 70s and 80s - chances are you have heard the band Starry Eye. Timothy Russell had two members of his family in the band - and used to work for them on the production side as a kid. After his uncle's shocking death in 2013, he decided it was time to capture the band's history.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

For as much as we talk about him and the several things he has a part in ( ie: Black Sheep, F**k Mountain, Looming, South Town Studio...) it's actually pretty amazing Scott and I haven't had Brandon Carnes in-studio yet. He couldn't have come at a better time. This week, he tells us about Looming's record release show on Friday, his incredibly absurd and offensive project called Diaper Rash (which some would also call quality performance art), and what it's been like taking over Black Sheep in Southtown. Tune in! 


Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, Rachel Lippmann, has been following the events in Ferguson after the shooting death of Micheal Brown for the year since it happened. Protests emerged yesterday around the anniversary of that event - where an unarmed black teen was killed by a police officer. A state of emergency has been called and protests are expected to linger on throughout the week.      

Tune into The Scene this week and hear pals and founders of the Downhome Music Festival in Springfield talk about how far their efforts have come over the past 5 years, and what you can expect if you attend this weekend. 

courtesy of Anna Bussing

It's a story as old as time: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Tragedy ensues. In modern day, a story like West Side Story, which throws in violence and racial tension for good measure, is just as timely as ever. It's being performed at The Muni for the first time in nearly 15 years, and opens this weekend. (Show times and tickets, here.)

John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune

Black mold, crumbling plaster, leaking ceilings, broken stairs... A home with these problems probably doesn't sound like the ideal residence for a multimillionaire like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. But that's exactly the issues that have cropped up after years of neglect at the Executive Mansion, aka the Governor's Mansion, in Springfield, which is 160 years old. 

Hello friends. This week, Scott and I have decided to step back & reminisce over the birth and first months of this lil' venture. We both are wild about art &  culture in virtually all of its forms, and we know many of you are too!

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Last Friday night, I found myself back at a place I had visited several times before.  What was recently a since moved artist co-op on the corner of South Grand Avenue and Pasfield Street known as The Pharmacy is finding life as yet another incarnation. The bottom has become a tattoo parlor - the loft above is a new artist gallery and performance called The Studio. It's a collaborative effort of several creatives in the area. 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Take a listen to The Scene with Scott Faingold of the Illinois Times and me! (And make sure you check out Scott's story about the proposed closure of the Illinois State Museum.)

Events discussed this week include:

Lydia Loveless started making her first album at the age of 17. She's been acknowledged as one of the best up-and-coming artists by both Spin and Rolling Stone magazines. Her songs are hard to classify. She is able to mix honky-tonk with a grunge/punk and even pop sound. The 24 year old is a huge pop fan, counting Prince and Ke$ha among favorites. She's on Chicago's Bloodshot Records and her newest album is called Somewhere Else.