AV History pageActive Voice tracks its origins to Ellen Schneider’s tenure as executive producer of P.O.V., PBS’s ongoing series of independent, point-of-view nonfiction films.

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In 1993, with support from the Ford Foundation, Ellen joined forces with media strategists, diversity trainers, and facilitators to create and refine a sustainable model for linking nationally broadcast social-issue documentaries with community and national organizations.

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By 1997, this innovative new model had given rise to the Television Race Initiative (TRI), a partnership that leveraged 12 films on PBS to help people in six communities nationwide engage in discussion through film screenings and facilitated dialogue, around the sensitive issues of race, culture, and identity. By coordinating these programs and activities, TRI made it possible for community-based organizations to build coalitions and share funds, best practices, and stories in a way that they could not do alone.

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By 2001, TRI had proven so successful that Ellen and others decided to explore more ways to apply the new, collaborative models upon which TRI was based, working on platforms beyond just public television and taking on a broader array of social justice issues. In fall 2001, with support from MacArthur Foundation and Ford Foundation, Active Voice was born. In keeping with the collaborative approaches piloted with public television stations and other partners, Active Voice has since forged partnerships with and among the country’s leading filmmakers, funders, policy experts, and national organizations.

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Throughout 2015, we’re wrapping up our film campaigns to focus on what we do best: deepening the connections between story, strategy, and sustained impact.

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In 2009, Ellen launched the Active Voice Lab for Story & Strategy, the organization’s research arm devoted to examining key challenges for filmmakers, funders, community organizations, and advocates. Active Voice Lab’s findings have led to new approaches and philosophies — such as Beyond the Choir and Ecosystem of Change — as well as practical field-building efforts like The Prenups: What Filmmakers and Funders Should Talk About Before Tying the Knot.

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In 2012, Ellen shifted the majority of her focus to the AV Lab, and Shaady Salehi, previously AV’s deputy director, stepped up as the new executive director of the organization.

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In 2012-2014, we expanded our portfolio and deepened our campaign work by emphasizing formal research and evaluation for every project.

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In 2014, drawing lessons from decades of AV Campaigns, the AV Lab launched the first phase of its multi-year initiative, How Do We Know (If We’re Making a Difference?) with the goal of enabling media makers, grantmakers and other change makers to think more creatively and collaboratively about measuring impact.

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In 2015, we made the decision to wrap up our film campaigns so that we could refocus the organization’s work on what we do best: deepening the connections between story, strategy, and sustained impact. Under the banner of Active Voice Lab, the more streamlined and networked company – led by Ellen Schneider – will intensify research and innovation around the use of story for social change.

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