[Skip to Content]

Introducing Free Write Sound & Vision: Bringing sound with a mission to ACTIVATE


Posted  2 years ago  in  Fun for Free, Arts and Culture, Trending  by  Jessica Cabe

All season long, thousands of workers, residents, and visitors in the Loop have enjoyed live music and DJs at Chicago Loop Alliance’s ACTIVATE series. What those ACTIVATE attendees may not have known is that the sounds bumping through the alleys have been brought to them by a company with a social mission. Learn more about Free Write Sound & Vision from founder and executive director Ryan Keesling.

What is Free Write Sound & Vision?

Free Write Sound & Vision provides full-service sound reinforcement and production support for all sizes and styles of events. Unlike similar services, Free Write S&V is committed to social justice and employment equity in the arts industry. We hire and train alumni of Free Write Arts & Literacy (which engages incarcerated and court-involved youth in the performing, visual, and literary arts so that they become the narrators of their own stories and the authors of their futures) and other young adults with barriers to employment. We support them as they make their way into an arts industry that is in need of a diverse, young workforce.

Participants begin as apprentices and work their way through a customized certification program to become production assistants. They then have the opportunity to advance to positions such as lead technician, studio engineer, DJ, customer support specialist, and more.

Free Write Sound & Vision lead technicians Walter McDavid and Cortez Williams during the setup for ACTIVATE on the Riverwalk. Photo by Ryan Keesling

What is your role at Free Write? How and when did you become involved?

I'm a founder and the current executive director. I started Free Write in 2000 as a one-on-one literacy tutoring program for youth detained in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.

Why does this particular mission resonate with you?

As we help prepare our students to leave detention, it's crucial to devise opportunities that will lessen their chances of experiencing recidivism. We respond to their expressed needs by offering them paid opportunities to build on the artistic skills they learned in Free Write workshop while incarcerated. As S&V apprentices, production assistants, and lead technicians, they become connected to Chicago's rich community of artists and cultural producers as well as gain advanced skills that will help them become employed in the creative industry. Free Write is about supporting criminalized young people as they move through and away from court involvement. Sound & Vision has grown to be a particularly joyful, profitable, and community-oriented way for us to do that.

How has it been, working on ACTIVATE this season? Why is an event series like ACTIVATE a good fit for Free Write?

ACTIVATE has brought together artists, advocates, and activists in a way that suits us so well. We love to listen to, learn from, and respond to our colleagues and the specific challenges of outdoor popup events like ACTIVATE so that we help create an amazing experience for everyone involved. ACTIVATE has encouraged us to deepen our technical and collaborative skill sets so that we are even more prepared to work in world-class events and venues around Chicago. 

Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to about the September event?

We are very excited to be working with our longtime production partners, Future Hood. I suggest you all check out their label, mission, and artists in advance of the final ACTIVATE!

“ACTIVATE: Materialists” is the final event of the 2018 season and will take place from 5-10 p.m. on September 13 in the Arcade Place alley (enter at Arcade Place and Wells). RSVP here for a free drink ticket.