Features & Columns

CreaTV Celebrates its Fifth Anniversary with a Free Speech Wall

CreaTV encourages San Joseans to 'raise their voices' with a Free Speech Wall
Free Speech Wall DRAWN IN: Cartoonist Jack Matsuoka adds a sketch to CreaTV's Free Speech Wall, which toured San Jose as part of the community media center's fifth anniversary celebration.

As of this, San Jose's most inspiring community-access media operation, CreaTV, turns five years old. That is, over five solid years, the nonprofit business has grown to offer four channels and has now infiltrated the lives of thousands of youths and adults. As a unit, CreaTV offers workshops and classes, provides equipment to elementary schools and gives tons of children a sense of confidence so that they can collaborate, believe in themselves and get along with others enough to make art together.

For its fifth birthday, CreaTV brainstormed a fantastic idea, The Free Speech Wall, where people can walk up and scribble whatever they want, whatever's on their minds, as a way of "raising their voices." The project incorporated all of San Jose's city council districts except for one that didn't respond in time. Calling the campaign, "Raise Your Voice," CreaTV debuted the Free Speech Wall on June 14 at District Five's Mexican Heritage Plaza, and from there, various 4'x8' canvassed walls were transported on different days to the other districts. In just two short weeks, the walls traveled to libraries, community centers and landmarks.

Overall, a wide mishmash of community folk showed up and participated. Kids scribbled their favorite bands or sports teams. Skaters drew anarchy symbols. People wrote in Japanese, Chinese, Hindi, Tagalog and more. Everyone wished CreaTV a happy five-year celebration.

For the District 6 installment, a blank wall arrived at Willow Glen Town Square at 5pm on Monday, June 24. CreaTV figured a central D6 location—at the former site of the celebrated Willow Glen Liquors, where everyone bought wrestling tickets 30 years ago and now ruthlessly demolished in favor of trees and park benches—would be a spectacular locale for everyone to walk up and take their Sharpies to canvas. And a variety of people did exactly that.

I showed up soon after the wall did, so it was mostly blank, although I did notice a quote someone had scribbled in black: "I don't really trust anyone who doesn't like Led Zeppelin." Perfect. Originally a Jack White quote from back when Zeppelin was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, it was a statement someone randomly wrote on the wall, precisely the idea. More folks soon participated. Some drew faces. Others drew flowers or martini glasses. One person wrote, "learn to play guitar." A few church ladies contributed Bible quotes. I drew a spazzed-out cartoon cat emerging from an oddly shaped tea mug. Unfortunately, it started to rain, so the D6 installment only lasted 45 minutes before the CreatTV crew packed it up and went on their way. Of course, lyrics from Led Zeppelin's Rain Song came into my head, nearly instantaneously: "This is the mystery of the quotient/Upon us all a little rain must fall."

Throughout the course of the project, pieces of the wall emerged in various places designed to attract locals from each specific district, which gave the entire process a feel of San Jose's multiple identities. For example, the D3 experience unfolded at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Main Library. The Japanese American Museum of San Jose sent legendary cartoonist Jack Matsuoka, now 86, over to the library to participate. As a result, Matsuoka's contribution included a baseball player wearing a Giants uniform, swinging a bat that said, "free speech." At the same event, a Chinese man visiting the United States for the first time wrote in his native characters while another person wrote "More Homeless Shelters. R.I.P. Tommy Martinez."

All in all, the project provided a splendid way for kids and adults to freely express themselves on walls, legally and peacefully. CreaTV took it to the streets, to quote a famous San Jose band, and brought it to the people, instead of the other way around. That is the stuff of legend.

For a broadcast from the CreaTV studios that took place July 1, urban artists from Silicon Valley De-Bug contributed street-art stylings and all walls were pieced together, forming the set for a three-hour live telecast. The birthday bash included live performances, special guests, auction items and opportunities for viewers to pledge, all in the name of free speech in San Jose. Here's to the next five years and more Zeppelin lyrics.