Daily Egyptian

Flyover Infoshop grows communal relationships

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

What was once bleak and concrete is now a space with a do-it-yourself feel. The Flyover Infoshop is a newly opened community center where people can explore the possibilities of life through networking, critical thought, good will and a little bit of elbow grease.

Located at 214 N. Washington St., Flyover is a free-space where people can host small concerts, art shows, free schools, mutual aid workshops and seminars, according to its website.

The Infoshop began its daily operations April 19 and will host a May Day poetry-slam, an open-mic for poets, the evening of May 1.

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The area once home to the Big Muddy Independent Media Center has served as a meeting ground for activist movements during the past several years, including Occupy Carbondale — the local manifestation of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Since October, it has undergone a physical transformation to make the space more welcoming and useful, said Sarah Baumgarten, an Infoshop volunteer. 

Infoshops began emerging internationally in the wake of social movements and acted as a place where people could come together to secure their social, economic and political needs in a society where they are often ignored, she said.

“We aim to see how we can transform the region, city or maybe just few blocks into something that doesn’t initiate exploitation, oppression, discrimination or marginalization of any and all people,” said Baumgarten, a senior from Chicago studying philosophy. 

Although it has only been fully open for about a week, it has attracted the eyes of many creative and intellectual people, she said.

“It’s turning out to be a space that is going to harness a lot of musical, poetic, artistic and academic events that fall in line with our anti-oppression and anti-hierarchical ideologies,” Baumgarten said.

Such events include open jam sessions, educational seminars and art shows hosted by the Untitled Art Collective — a southern Illinois art group comprised of students and community members. It hosted a prison abolition workshop Friday, in which Kim Wilson, a former professor in the College of Education at Temple University, led an open-forum discussion on the relationship between mass incarceration and racism.

Upon entering Flyover, one may take note of the unusual aesthetic. 

The floor was made by cutting up brown paper bags, dipping the strips in paper-mache paste, laying them on the concrete floor to dry and brushing them in a clear polyurethane coating.

In addition to the homemade floor, the space houses up-cycled pallet furniture. Free and low-cost pallets were turned into tables, walls, a stage and a bar.

The small kitchen is regularly staffed by freelance chef Ferris McEvoy and turns out dinners for anyone with an appetite. 

Flyover hosted a field trip on Saturday to the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center to see how those near the University of Illinois campus have run one of the most successful independent media centers for so many years, said James Anderson, a doctoral candidate in mass communications and media arts from Greenville.

“One of the things that I am most adamant about seeing the Infoshop prioritize is helping people recover a sense of agency,” Anderson said. “So they can have some control or say over their lives.”

Anderson said those at the Urbana-Champaign location introduced something called a “makerspace,” where people teach each other the necessary skills to build infrastructure and provide the types of services needed to survive, play and thrive — including sewing, carpentry, glass blowing and 3-D printing. 

Additionally, they have spread their message on the airwaves. The Counter-Power Radio Hour is the on-air space for the Infoshop, airing on 91.1 FM WDBX from midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday, Anderson said.

Aside from free workshops and cultural events, some people at the Infoshop have taken to fields with the intent to grow produce for low-income families and teach the youth the simple secrets of food independence, Baumgarten said.

“Flyover is also home to the Subsistence Research Center, which is dedicated to investigating the questions and practices that would be necessary to create a self-sufficient regional economy,” said subsistence researcher Nick Smaligo. 

A few of the center’s members have created a project called Full Moon Gardenscaping, which offers clients an opportunity for people to turn their lawns into a low-maintenance garden.

Clients harvest as much produce as they would like from their lawns and the rest will be distributed to those who normally can not afford local produce, said Smaligo, a doctoral candidate in philosophy from Carbondale.

Smaligo, an Infoshop volunteer, said the advantages of gardenscaping are threefold.

“[It] will create more local produce, get it in the hands of people who otherwise would not have access to it and build new connections throughout the community,” he wrote in a Full Moon flyer.

Aside from the blood, sweat and tears of several volunteers, a grant awarded this month will help further the group’s mission, Smaligo said.

Baumgarten received a $1,000 grant from The Awesome Foundation, an international organization that gives grants to “initiatives which solve a problem, cultivate community, and spread joy,” according to its website.

The grant will help fund a compost bank called Growing Ground, where compostable materials are deposited and fertile soil is withdrawn. The money will go to homemade wagons that will hitch to bicycles and transport organic matter to and from various sites, Baumgarten said. 

Volunteers collect food scraps from commercial and residential locations and shuttle them to one of the compost banks. Once the compost is ready, it can be picked up or delivered to those who need it, free of charge.

A fundamental part of Flyover’s mission is educating people to become more self-sufficient, Baumgarten said. She is starting a programming in which children can visit Growing Ground and leave with useful skills.

“These are kids who have grown up with virtually no recreational or educational resources,” she said. “The idea is to teach these kids gardening skills to the point where when others visit the compost bank, the kids are the ones teaching them about it.”

Baumgarten will also lead workshops for the kids including nature journaling, team-building and problem solving activities. She plans to offer outdoor therapy sessions once summer starts, in which participants can engage in breathing and yoga techniques.

Volunteers have thus far footed the costs of keeping the space up-and-running. In an effort to install Internet and keep the water running, the group has started a Flyover Infoshop donation page on kickstarter.com, which has raised $1,295 from 24 donors. 

The space is operating, but will have its grand opening the weekend after finals because many of the people involved are students and faculty, Baumgarten said. 

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] 

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