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%.

Ways to Connect

The Scene Gets Thankful

Nov 25, 2015
photo: Brian Mackey, clip art: RO

Scott and  Rachel are nearing a year of bringing you The Scene on air and in podcast form. Every week we stop to take a look around the scene so we can tell you about some of the fun and fascinating things coming up. 

Voice of America News: Henry Ridgwell from the Turkish border by Aleppo

Human rights groups in Illinois say they'll continue programs for Syrian refugees. That’s despite the governor's calls to suspend accepting them - a threat he made on the heels of the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. 


Tune in and hear from Lisa Higgs, the president of the Vachel Lindsay Association which organizes community and poetry-related events in Springfield. Plus find out about the holiday farmer's market, a performance from the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, and much more:

Tune in this week where we are joined by guest host from The Pharmacy, Janet Sgro - the collective will host an art show this weekend called Neo Surrealism: Third Eye Opening

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Springfield is home to a variety of antique markets, book and record shops, and boutiques. l would like to introduce you to a few over on a corner of Governor St. off of MacArthur Blvd. that have popped up in the past couple years. 

flickr.com, user: Dining For Women

There are many ways to get involved with a charity or social justice group. But what if you could combine those efforts with food? That’s exactly what the national organization called “Dining For Women” does. With hundreds of chapters that meet, it helps fundraise for women in developing countries - where it's been shown that if you invest in the women of a community - your dollars stretch further.

DEMO Project gallery

An international film fest, and an internationally known artist/art critic are in town - all in the same weekend! And there's plenty more to talk about. This week, Scott and Rachel are joined by Thea Chesley who works with the Route 66 Intl. Film Fest.

Events discussed this week include:


The history of Jewish migration was partially defined by the peddlers who left their homes in search of a better life. They sold things like jewelry, and house-wares, traveling from town to town and staying in the homes of strangers. Their legacy includes the likes of businesses such as Sears and Levis Strauss.


Mass incarceration, the war on drugs, mental illness, and racism within police departments: all these issues are alive and well in America. In Illinois - the Cook County Jail is the largest single jail site in the US - and houses apx. 9,000 people. Meanwhile, unlike many jails located in small towns and rural areas - this one is directly surrounded by a community of tens of thousands.

Illinois Issues/WUIS

On Tuesday, voters in Ohio considered whether to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana use. It would have created a new provision in the state's constitution that allowed only ten farms to grow the plant legally. That plan had its critics, and the measure failed. Many experts have their eye on Ohio - as it serves as an example of Midwestern residents trying to take on the legalization issue that has swept Colorado and the West Coast.

From The Scene: Happy Halloween, 2015

Oct 29, 2015

Halloween is this Saturday, and as such there is a plethora of events in the area to help you celebrate. The Scene is here to tell you about the stand-outs:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

In recent years, there has been a push at the statehouse to revive and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. It'd be a symbolic gesture, since the measure failed in the 1970s, and never did get enough support from states to pass federally. It was meant to include in the Constitution that women shall be afforded the same rights as men and not discriminated against due to gender.

Wikimedia Commons / User: Husky

Learning standards for the arts are changing in the state. It's been about two decades since the guidelines have been updated. Teachers and administrators around Illinois have been meeting regularly since new federal arts standards were released last year. Those guidelines separate the arts into five categories: music, theater, dance, visual art and media arts.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

In northern Illinois, a new space is open for kids to complete a variety of unique creative projects. I took a visit, here’s the report:

Get Spooky With The Scene

Oct 22, 2015

On the week's episode of The Scene, Rachel and Scott talk about Halloween festivities, preview a multi-sensory art show, and talk about a local museum most area-residents haven't heard of. Take a listen:

Events discussed this week include:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

A civil rights icon made a stop in Springfield this week to talk about activism and his new books. John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, is the last living member of a group of civil rights leaders known as the "Big Six." Martin Luther King Jr. was also in that group, and mentored Lewis.


Isolation has proven harmful for the human psyche. Yet every year, tens of thousands of prisoners across the country are left alone for virtually every hour of the day in solitary confinement.

The Scene With Guest Host Arlin Peebles

Oct 14, 2015
Rachel Otwell/ WUIS

Gather around, let us sing you a tune. Well, Arlin Peebles will play you one anyway. He's our guest of the week and will be playing a show in Springfield on Friday night. He also helps run the new multimedia venue called 'The Studio.' We have lots to tell you about, so let's get started:

Events discussed this week include:

Top Shelf Productions

The event is Monday night on the UIS campus.

flickr.com, User: ShimerCollege

Shimer College was founded in 1853 and has existed in several different incarnations and locations around Illinois. It's now on the south side of Chicago, in a space it rents from the Illinois Institute of Technology. About 100 students attend, and they take courses that center around what's called the great-books curriculum. Students are expected to come to class ready to discuss, and the teachers are called facilitators, simply there to help move the discussion along. Classes never have more than 12 people.

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

Oct 8, 2015

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.