Mott Haven is now home to a futuristic television, film and video studio designed to propel creative Bronxites to a national level.
BronxNet, the local news and public access station, has moved into the bottom two floors of the La Central affordable housing and commercial complex, and this fall will open its doors to Bronx residents to take classes in using the latest technology to create their own shows or artistic projects.
On Thursday, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and BronxNet Executive Director Michael Max Knobbe cut the opening ribbon for the station’s newest facility, to applause from a small group of financial backers and supporters.
The new site, which will open to the public on September 14, will be a mecca for emerging Bronx creatives who want to use professional-level visual technology, take classes and training sessions for free or low cost.
Pilot programs and classes will also be offered at dates to be determined this summer.
The location is BronxNet’s third site, with two others at CUNY Lehman College and Mercy College, and offers education programs that have landed previous students at prestigious news and television companies like Paramount Pictures, Spectrum News NY1, CBS and NBC.
On ground that was rubble only six years ago, the new site includes high-end immersive media technology, like robotic cameras, studio cameras, ultra high definition broadcast studios, green screens, and Voyager technology to create custom-built virtual sets for documentaries, newscasts, and narrative filmmaking.
“This is unique in the South Bronx, unique in New York City, in the Northeast corridor,” Knobbe said in a preview visit. “I don’t even know if there’s anything like it in Hollywood or out west because of what we do in terms of workforce and experience learning for students here.”
BronxNet creates television programming that addresses concerns, interests and cultures of Bronxites and will celebrate its 30 year anniversary in October. It offers six high definition public access channels, which are free and show programs created by members of the public.
The network’s mission is to celebrate a myriad of stories born from Bronx residents’ cultures and languages, especially on Optimum channel 69 and Verizon Fios channel 35, which airs multilingual and cultural programming in Spanish, Albanian, Guyanese, African languages, Hindi, and will soon also feature Bengali.
When the site opens in September, youth, college students and the public can register for classes and training on topics like virtual reality, on camera television performance, television monitoring, creating digital art, screenwriting, field production and more for free or at low cost. A full list of class offerings can be found on the group’s education page here.
Sonyi Lopez, a Dominican-born, Mott Haven resident, landed a reporting internship with BronxNet during her last year at City College of New York in 2018. She was then hired by the group as a journalist and producer, and created a range of visual stories like short documentaries, one in celebration of Bronx-based activist Evelina Antonetty, and a special series on art and community activism.
Lopez is now a Video News Production fellow at Democracy Now! and believes her internship experience was pivotal to her growth in the field.
“Take advantage of the opportunities and resources BronxNet offers,” Lopez said. “I learned to produce, write, shoot and edit content. Thanks to my experience, I am confident and driven to pursue opportunities that I otherwise would not have qualified for without the real life experience I gained at BronxNet.”
Lopez now edits footage for daily news shows on Democracy Now! and recently started rolling the teleprompter for Amy Goodman, a co-founder of the institution. Lopez is also an independent community journalist and wants to help train and empower youth to document their own neighborhoods.
The network’s newest site also includes an innovation lab with technology equipped for computer-generated imaging and immersive media development, and a soundproof, double glass paned, studio called Windows on the Bronx, that has its own control room with robotic cameras and high definition lightning to come soon.
“We’ve made sure to integrate enterprise-level technology into our studio and control room spaces that are equal or better than what’s in commercial networks,” Knobbe said. “Why? Because we’re a pipeline for those networks, they hire our people, including the engineers and technical directors and producers, so we want to make sure we have the best.”
Even with all the new technology, Knobbe’s main priority is still to elevate Bronx stories. The network hired 10 local artists through Creatives Rebuild New York, an initiative funded by Mellon Foundation and others, that provides income for artists and community-based organization collaborations in New York State.
The initiative is a two-year program that awards a salary of $65,000 per year to participating artists, and includes benefits and time to dedicate for their art. Community-based organizations, like BronxNet, receive between $25,000 and $100,000 per year, per artist, to support the collaboration.
The artists at BronxNet include Will Rogers, who works with students to produce live action, virtual reality sports tournaments, Jasmine White and Kobina deGraft-Johnson, a writer and director, respectively, who created a narrative series on the African experience in the city called, “#Stressed,” and three Bronx-based puppeteers who created a children’s puppet show.
BronxNet currently employs three staff reporters, and relies on its network of student reporters from colleges like CUNY’s Lehman and Borough of Manhattan Community Colleges and Fordham University. This summer, the East 149th Street location will be used as a headquarters for interns.
The new location’s construction was announced in 2021, along with plans to add retail spaces and 1,000 affordable housing units to The Hub. Now finished, the complex is like a dream realized for Knobbe, who was born and raised in Kingsbridge.
“Wherever I go in the world, my heart and my home will always be in the Bronx,” Knobbe said. “There’s great tech inequities here in the South Bronx, and we’ve made sure that we have provided spaces with the capabilities for a competitive job in the 21st century media landscape.”
The new location and technology are funded by donated money and private grants like Creatives Rebuild New York. The borough president allocated $500,000 for the space.
You can tune into BronxNet programs on Channels 67, 68, 69, 70, 951 and 952 on Optimum and on 2133, 2134, 2135, 2136, 2137 and 2138 on Verizon Fios in the Bronx.