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


Combat veterans in California have been working on the hearse that will be used in Abraham Lincoln's funeral re-creation later this spring. It will be at the center of events in Springfield commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's funeral processional and burial. Work on the hearse provided a number of challenges. And in a way, it served as therapy for those working to make sense out of civilian life back home.


In this day and age when people put a lot of effort into making their videos or news stories viral,  there's one sure-fire way to garner some extra attention - put a cat in it. Instagram is full of pictures of cats, and your Facebook news feed likely sees a cat video from time to time. Grumpy Cat is a household name, and face. But what implication does this have with the quality of news we receive? Is it a sign that we as a society are dumbing down? Or is there more to it?


Tune into this week's Art Beat with Scott Faingold of the Illinois Times:

Events discussed this week include:

A still from the PBS program

How much do you know about your roots? Many of us have legends in our families about being related to famous people, but it's hard sometimes to know just where the truth lies. Nikki Overcash decided to find out about a tale that had been passed down in her family, rumors have it she's a descendent of the pirate known as Blackbeard. She did so by reaching out to the PBS program called Genealogy Roadshow.

The Dixie Swim Club is a play about 5 women who met on the swim team in college and have created lasting friendships ever since. Each year, they meet to reconnect and catch up with each other. The play, whose writers include one who has written for The Golden Girls, is a comedy that also tackles the serious issues that come with aging, and the drama that comes with friendship.

We were recently joined by two of the actors, Grace Hughes and Deborah Kerley for this interview:


Tune into this week's Art Beat:

Events discussed this time around include:

Rachel Otwell

WUIS is once again soliciting original writings from the Springfield-area. We are looking for stories that take a maximum of 4 minutes to read out loud (abbreviated versions are fine - we can post your whole story online.) Poets are also encouraged to submit.

We want stories that are at least loosely tied to the theme of spring - be they a rebirth or reinvention, or a story that is set during that time of the year. Use your imagination, get creative, and send your submissions to rotwe2@uis.edu with the subject line: SPRING STORY.

Tune into this week's Art Beat with the Illinois Times' Scott Faingold:

Events discussed include:

Michael Mayosky

A project meant to "art - ify" Springfield's city center may have hit a dead-end. The effort to add more murals kicked off a couple years ago. Now there's only a single incomplete one to show for it. The question remains if Springfield will join other cities in Illinois, and across the country, that can boast their downtowns as places where public art is highlighted. 


UIS Campus Relations

Thursday will mark the 206th year since Abraham Lincoln was born.  Ken Bradbury, a prolific Illinois playwright, wrote a one-man, one-act play called 'The Last Full Measure' about what Lincoln may have been thinking in the moments after he was assassinated.

This week we bring you info for a vintage shop tour on Saturday in Springfield that is offering customers free charms to make jewelry with (flyer is posted in this post, more info here).  That event also includes Incredibly Delicious! PLUS: 


Last year, Downtown Springfield Inc. made a plea to residents, saying without extra fundraising dollars the group would go bankrupt. But it was able to regain losses, and now there are changes ahead for the group. For instance, the "Taste of Downtown" event that has been highlighting local restaurants for years will start focusing on a specific ingredient. For 2015, that will mean the event will focus on bacon. DSI is also appealing to the city for financial help to keep a sustainable budget.


Chicago Singles Club probably sounds like a dating site - but it actually is an operation that records and releases free singles, of the musical variety. Chicago Singles Club is in its second year and features some of Chicago's best and most unique independent artists. We spoke with one of the founders, Jeff Kelley, to find out more:             

wax figures of the Lincoln family inside the museum
Rachel Otwell / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum should stay paired with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency — but changes are needed. That was the finding of a study done as a result of measures in the legislature calling for the two to separate. House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has been behind the push for the separation. But experts in the field of historic preservation say not so fast.

View from above of people painting sections of pavement
Steve Myers

Betsy Dollar’s office at the Springfield Art Association, which she heads, is a hodgepodge of computers used for digital art classes, important files, various books and pieces of art. Her dog, Jake, who tends to accompany her to work, is napping under the desk. Dollar is in the middle of a messy project, using clay to restore a historic ceiling medallion that was damaged at Edwards Place, a home that is part of the Springfield Art Association campus and was the original center of artistic activity for the group some 100 years ago. This is the office of a person who does far more than push papers and handle bureaucratic duties; it’s headquarters for a woman who does a little bit of everything to keep the organization she loves running.


The art & culture events we discuss this week include:

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

The Springfield Area Arts Council has a new director. Jon Austin is an Illinois native who has led a host of non-profit organizations. He's headed the Illinois State Historical Society and was the director of the Museum of Funeral Customs. He says he's excited to be a part of Springfield's diverse arts community. He joins for this introductory interview:  

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are the victims of domestic abuse. Some die at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them. That's what happened to Maxwell, he was two when he died after a history of neglect and abuse that was never adequately addressed. He left behind a family who will never forget him, and a sister who has worked to cope with his passing. 


January is "Cervical Health Awareness Month" and those in the health field around the country, including SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, are urging women to get screened. Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV, a virus that can sometimes be prevented with the use of vaccines. You can find guidelines on how frequently Pap tests are suggested by The American Cancer Society here.

Rachel Otwell/village of Chatham

Some residents in Chatham are concerned that since a new water plant was built there and began operating, their water quality is not what it used to be. Issues raised include that the water leaves behind a corrosive, chalky residue, has a bad taste and odor, and contains black particles.


It's Friday, and that means time again to bring you our discussion of what events to check out this weekend and beyond. Scott Faingold of the Illinois Times and I will tell you about:

Patrick Yeagle

Some people claim we're living in a "post-racial" world. There's a black president, and laws to protect the rights of citizens no matter their skin color. But while it's no longer common place to overtly discriminate against others due to their looks - racism is alive and well in many of the institutions and systems of power in this country, and that includes in Springfield.

Luke Otwell

Political cartoons and their creators have a special place in my heart. While growing up, my grandparents' house was decorated with dozens of cartoons (my grandfather worked for the Chicago Sun-Times). Many took a cynical stance on the Daley regime. I think one of my grandfather's most prized possessions is a printing plate he snatched before it got melted down and recycled. It contained the famous cartoon created by Bill Mauldin in the hours after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

© 2014 Maloof Collection, Ltd.

This week, we take a look at an art exhibit currently on display at the Prairie Art Alliance's H.D. Smith Gallery at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield. We talk to Carolyn Owen Sommer about her work that came from a challenge to create 30 pieces of art in 30 days. The result is an interesting take on a host of women's issues.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

North-End Pride: The Story of Lanphier High School, Its People and Community. That's the title of a newly released book that takes a first-of-its-kind look at an area of Springfield that's not always on the top of the list when it comes to what makes Springfield residents proud of their city. But the book's author, Ken Mitchell, was born and raised there with people he describes as "salt of the earth." He started the book as a memoir about his high school days and it quickly morphed into a deeper history. Mitchell joined us for this interview: 

courtesy of Jonathan Mitchell

Jonathan Mitchell has been working in public radio for nearly 20 years. His background is in music, he often creates his own music for his stories, which use creative sounds. Mitchell studied music composition at the U of I and learned about the recording studio while working on a project that incorporated manipulated natural sounds.

Scott Faingold & Rachel Otwell publicity shot
Sean Crawford/ / WUIS / Illinois Issues

Scott Faingold  reports on arts & culture for the Illinois Times. (Find his blog here.) We'll be turning to him for this podcast exploring the central Illinois art scene - everything from music, literature, visual art, film and more. With my focus also being on the arts world here in Springfield, and Illinois - we'll tell listeners about our favorite things to check out in the area. We'll be learning about new artists and musicians right along with you.


University of Illinois officials say they will continue to convene meetings on the prevention of sexual assault on all three campuses. The group comprises about 20 people - including legal counsel, police, and women's rights advocates.

Dedra Williams is the Assistant VP for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois, she says the goal is to ultimately shape effective policies: "If we need to make improvements, we want to be a leader and work with the legislators, with our campuses, and make a safe place for our students."

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

A panel that considered whether to separate Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the state's historic preservation agency released its findings on Wednesday. Convened at the request of both entities, the study recommends keeping the same oversight. Legislation has been proposed to split them apart. The report also suggests a reorganization of the state agency to improve what it calls the cultures of "politics" and "research."

courtesy of David Jackson

The Chicago Tribune has been taking a look at the rampant problems that appear to be taking place at residential treatment centers for teens run by the state. David Jackson has been one of the reporters who has been looking at the issue over a long period of time.