Rachel Otwell

Journalist / The Scene Blog

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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%.

It’s the second year for  The Humanities Film Series in Jacksonville. This year’s is meant to make you think about moral courage, and the challenges that can come with doing the right thing. It kicks off Thursday night at 6:30 at the Jacksonville Public Library. Christopher Strangeman teaches history at MacMurray College in Jacksonville and helped get the film series started, he joined us for this interview about it. 

Courtesy of Andrew Woolbright

The Pharmacy artist co-op in Springfield has come a long way since its humble beginnings a few years ago. The group will soon move from their digs in what once was the Watt Bros. Pharmacy off South Grand Avenue to a new location downtown. It's hosted numerous art shows, as well as literary, musical, and educational events.

© 2014 Maloof Collection, Ltd.

By now her story is one that’s been told often: A Chicago nanny takes thousands of photos, many are of street scenes from all over the city. She never tells anyone about her passion for photography. A young man buys boxes of her works on a whim at an auction, only to later realize in his possession are what will become some of the most critically acclaimed examples of street photography perhaps ever. By the time the man realizes the value of his findings, the mysterious woman who took the photos has passed away.

NOTE: This story has been updated.  More than 130 students and a few staff members from North Mac Intermediate School in Girard have been taken to hospitals with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. North Mac superintendent Marica Cullen said a leaky pipe caused significantly high carbon monoxide levels, and the school - with about 640 students, was evacuated around 9 am she said.

Cullen says the number of affected students may continue to rise, as parents are being told to take their children directly to the hospital if they show any signs of being sick.

A Practice In Poverty

Sep 15, 2014
Rachel Otwell/WUIS

It’s been 50 years since the “War on Poverty” was launched. Around 15% of Illinois residents currently live in poverty, the same percentage of a half century ago. Universities, non-profits, and other organizations are teaming up to draw attention to the unrelenting problem. The University of Illinois Springfield is hosting a series of poverty-related events in the coming year. The first was a “poverty simulation.”

Bedrock 66 Live!

Friday night (9/12) at Donnie's in Springfield will kick off The American Music Show. It's a festival that's making a comeback this year. Bands include regional favorites The Bottle Rockets, and Brooklyn rock/indie duo The Mastersons, who regularly serve as backup band members for Steve Earle. The two-day event highlights roots/Americana music. We spoke with booker Sean Burns about it - he tells us about bringing under-appreciated, talented musicians to town.

CLICK HERE for tickets.

Donna Lounsberry

The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been told for over a century. But it’s only been a Broadway musical since the 1990s. Now, it’s a production on the Muni stage in Springfield. We were recently joined by cast members who told us more about it: D.J. Schultz who plays Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Wes Bridges who plays his best friend John Utterson, and Dennis O’Brien who plays Sir Archibald Proops.

Jekyll & Hyde is this Thursday through Saturday, and Sept. 18-20 as well. Shows begin at 7:30.

apple.com

Students at Decatur public schools will each have their own iPad or laptop to use. That's the goal the district has set for the coming two years. Elementary schools will have 1-to-1 iPads, middle schools will have a mix of iPads and laptops, and the two high schools will use laptops. At Eisenhower High School it's already taken place - with each student having their own MacBook Air.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Last Thursday, over 300 people met in Springfield for a meeting titled “Saving Our Black Males Through Education, Information, and Communication." It was organized as a response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri where an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a police officer. One common refrain was that blacks in Springfield often feel targeted by police simply because of their skin color. Local police chief Kenny Winslow told the crowd that better communication is needed.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Racial tension and profiling by police were among the topics discussed at a community meeting held at Southeast High School in Springfield on Thursday. Over 300 people were in attendance for the meeting put on by the local chapter of the NAACP. It was organized as a response to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri where an unarmed black teen was shot and killed by a police officer. One common refrain was that blacks in Springfield often feel targeted by police simply because of their skin color.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Over 300 people met at Southeast High School in Springfield on Thursday to talk about racial profiling and its effect on African American youth, among other things. It was hosted by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a response to the fatal shooting of Micheal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and its aftermath.

Courtesy of The Hoogland Center for the Arts

Hamlet opens at The Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield this weekend. It's not your typical production though. In the lead role is one of the area's most well-known and talented actors, who also happens to be a woman. Aasne Vigesaa joined us for this interview about the production and her role in it:   Hamlet runs at the Hoogland September 5-7 and 12-14. More info is here.

uis.edu

Jeff Robinson spent his summer filling the UIS Visual Arts Gallery with stuff. His exhibition is called "Filler." Robinson heads the gallery, and his exhibit is site specific, it's an installation that will only exist in the gallery on a temporary basis. He recently joined us to talk about the work and what it means to him....

millikin.edu/kirkland

The Kirkland Fine Arts Center in Decatur's season kicks off this weekend with a Beatles tribute band. Theres quite a variety of shows, we recently spoke with Jan Traughber who heads Kirkland about the season: 

Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR)

A little over a decade ago, cougars and wolves started showing up in Illinois for the first time since the late 1800s. In August, Governor Pat Quinn signed a measure that aims to protect and manage the animals. Maureen McKinney reported on the topic for Illinois Issues magazine. She spoke with us about it for this interview:

Courtesy of Belleville the movie

Belleville is a small agriculture-based city about 90 miles south of Springfield - not the average setting for a movie. But indie filmmakers decided it was the perfect place for a story about a farmer who is grappling with his wife's death. While that may sound pretty heavy, the mood is lightened when an out-of-world stranger shows up on the farmer's property. Dan Steadman wrote and directed the film, he recently joined us to talk about it.

springfieldpc3.com

The Prairie Capital Convention Center is the largest venue in Springfield, hosting everything from roller derby, to rock concerts, to conventions for Illinois teachers. It's seen a lot of changes over the past few years. We spoke with Executive Director of the PCCC, Brian Oaks, about the recent overhaul, the board that oversees it, and even a possible reality television show about its employees.    

Courtesy of The Hoogland Center for the Arts

Putting on older theater productions can be a dilemma for those who want to preserve the art in its original form. Some production groups may decide to reinvent pieces that could be seen as problematic in modern times. An operetta currently being performed in Springfield by local actors has sparked controversy for what many consider to be racist qualities.

There will be heightened security at Lanphier High School Wednesday after a student brought a gun to class on Tuesday afternoon. The weapon was apprehended without incident and the 16 year old male student was arrested. Police say he allegedly had the gun for protection and at no point displayed or threatened to use it. Superintendent Jennifer Gill says there will be more police officers at the high school in the coming few days:

http://www.museum.state.il.us/

In this interview, we speak with Jim Zimmer, the director of art and history for the Illinois State Museum System. He tells us about the curation that goes on behind the scenes, the variety of artwork that can be found at the museum, and current as well as upcoming exhibitions.

Currently at the Springfield museum is an exhibit titled Fragile Relations: Art, Nature & Environment. It ends this weekend.  

themilkbank.org

The matter of what to feed an infant has been a historically controversial one. August is National Breastfeeding Month, which is not only meant to draw attention to the fact it's generally considered the best food for babies, but also that not all newborns have access to breast milk - which can be a life-threatening thing for some. Carissa Hawkins is with 'The Milk Bank' - located in Indiana and a supplier for states in the Midwest. She recently spoke with us about it:

CLICK HERE for more info about The Milk Bank.

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

On Monday morning Michael Brown was laid to rest by not only family members, but politicians, community organizers, and hundreds of other members of the public. It's been two weeks since the teen was killed by a police officer. We checked in with St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann for an update on the situation in Ferguson. This interview took place on Monday morning:

CLICK HERE for updated coverage from St. Louis Public Radio.

Derek French, a recent UIS grad says he's part of a "youth movement" concerned with standing up for citizens' constitutional rights. While he says the rally planned for Saturday from noon to 4:15 at the Old State Capitol is not directly related to the situation in Ferguson, the recent turmoil there makes this an important time for community activists in Springfield to stage a "peaceful assembly." Here's our interview with French:

chathamschools.org

Chatham school district is growing at a steady pace, adding about 75 to 100 students each year. That means changes are on the horizon and schools are undergoing much-needed construction in order to expand. Meanwhile, as is the case in many other school districts in the state, it's a challenge to keep the budget balanced. In this interview, Superintendent Carrie Hruby speaks to WUIS about this and more, including school lunches and a mentor program started by a student...

    

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Watching one power-point presentation after another probably doesn't sound all that fun to most folks. But a local version of a worldwide happening strives to make it that way. The unique event draws in a host of diverse characters from the community and gives them about seven minutes to tell their story while showing images that correspond with their talk, each presenter has 20 slides with an image only, that last 20 seconds each.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

All Springfield public school students will get free lunches this year. Most schools in the district already were part of a free meal program that qualified students automatically, no matter their household income. This year, all schools in the district will participate. Iles and Ball Charter Elementary schools were added along with Lincoln Middle School and Springfield High.

Ryne Goodrich

It's been over a week since an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The demonstrations against what many consider police brutality have yet to end. Some Springfield residents have gone to join the protests, including Ryne Goodrich. He's a hip-hop promoter, a rapper, and a community activist. Goodrich shares his take on the situation in this interview:

It's a modern turn of phrase you've probably heard before: "driving while black." It's the notion some people hold that simply being a black driver can make you a target for traffic stops by police. And, it's the topic of Illinois Times Reporter Patrick Yeagle's recent feature article. He spoke with police, and drivers who say they've been a victim of racial profiling in Springfield. He also looked into a study released by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which collects data about race and traffic stops.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

District 186 students are back in the classroom on Monday.  They will see some changes,  including all Springfield public schools observing a one hour early dismissal every Wednesday. Bus routes will run an hour early and after-school programs are available on those days. The district also has a new superintendent, Jennifer Gill. She joined us for this interview about how budget cuts will affect students, why she's hoping to focus on the district's drop-out rate, and more: 

Lincoln New Salem's Theatre in the Park Facebook page

There's more than one venue in the Springfield area to see a show while enjoying some time outdoors. New Salem's Theatre in the Park is bringing back a musical celebrating its 60th anniversary. The Pajama Game follows the story of a pajama factory going through labor disputes, and an unlikely romance that transpires there.

We recently spoke with the two lead actors, Becky Bertram and Mark Wheeler, as well as director Sean VanAusdall-Rose.

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