Media Bureau—An Artists' Colony Teeming With Talent—Flourishes in NoLibs

By Nicole Finkbiner
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Jul. 27, 2011

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“There was no concerted effort in Philadelphia to do anything digital let alone optimize a platform for politics,” Barnett says. So Media Bureau did both. 


Ten years later, Media Bureau had the highest trafficked political site (PA2010.com) in the state during the campaign season. And what’s in store for next year’s elections is already on display at PA2012.com, a one-stop shop for news, analysis and opinion on all of the state elections. 


Barnett leased the Fourth Street warehouse in 1998. “The idea was to create a scene,” says Rosenblatt, who remains a friend and consultant. “It was not just a business, it was a gathering place.” So they had several of the walls knocked down, leaving a few communal spaces. “We filled them with couches, we would throw concerts and receptions.” 


What ensued was a constant flow of artists, some of whom have set up shop in the warehouse’s studios, like Eminem’s guitarist, Curt Chambers. The artists who make up the Bureau’s “ecosystem” regularly volunteer and perform at its events, and in return get discounted rent. The hospitality extends to visiting artists who just need a place to sleep for the night. “People know it’s a pretty chill place and if someone needs a place to crash, so be it. That’s kinda the way Media Bureau is,” Cohen says. 


“It’s an ideal environment to be creative, and we think its working,” says Barnett, who rattles off a list of the Bureau’s previous tenants: professional skateboarder, musician and 2011 Pew Fellowship Award recipient Chuck Treece; world-renowned DJ, poet and producer Big Rich Medina; DJ and producer King Britt.


“It was like Andy Warhol’s factory in a way, but with more creative thinkers who have all gone on to do great things,” says Britt, reminiscing about the building that housed his music studio for a decade. “Rich Medina lived upstairs and between the two of us and then what Ben was doing, it became an epicenter for some amazing creative collaborations.” One such endeavor includes a documentary about the making of Britt’s Sister Gertrude Morgan album and the Sylk130 reunion show at World Café Live, expected to be released soon. 


“Media Bureau was definitely a fantastic hub for the underground scene,” says Britt. “It was a space that was really special and run by some amazing guys who weren’t in it for the money but for the cultivation of an amazing pool of talent.” 


And at the very core of Media Bureau is a revolving cast of characters working behind the scenes. 


For years Barnett hitchhiked across the U.S and Europe, taught English in Prague and worked on CD-ROM interfaces in Israel (where he co-designed the interface of the original Space Invaders game). 


Wherever he went, he went in search of things off the beaten path. “I would just go to a country or city and look for it.” 


What exactly “it” was, he didn’t know or care. 


“I research and read all the time, talk with colleagues, travel the world, all to look for signs,” he says. “Those signs are human digital migration.”


Today, the settled father of three is captain of the Media Bureau ship. 
“Somehow I manage to be a film festival producer, program director, political 
reporter, researcher and digital media gadfly,” he jokes. His official titles include community manager, digital media strategist, director of new business and his least favorite, landlord. In addition to managing the 27 websites under the Bureau’s umbrella, Barnett has directed 10 music videos and once collaborated with Chuck Treece and Philly rapper Schoolly D to create a 21-song film soundtrack. 


Shortly after receiving a degree in International Public Relations from Hartford University, Cohen—who also goes by “MC Keylime Pie,” “Oil Slick,” and “Scrappy K,” depending on the day—sold all his belongings and headed out west. There, the Bucks County native landed a role in the mockumentary The Making Of: Invasion of the Freedom Snatchers , starring as a zombie leader alongside the likes of Forest Whitaker, Dennis Leary and Chloë Sevigny.


Cohen, 36, also co-founded the Freedom Cinema Festival, a showcase of global activist films. It was when he came to the Bureau to audition for the role of a monk in the science-fiction documentary The Order of the Quest that Cohen first met Barnett. He didn’t get the part, but Cohen parlayed his film experience into a spot in the Bureau and immediately got involved with the Indie Film Fest. “I jumped in January 2008 and didn’t look back,” he says. 


Cohen spends his days tackling various Bureau duties, whether it be screening films, interviewing artists or dealing with the electricity bill. At night, he’s a consultant at Nutrisystem, helping people stick to their weight-loss regime. “That job helps pay the bills and feed the vital organs, and this world of the entertainment, film and music helps me feed the soul,” he says. 


There’s a crew of several other media-savvy visionaries backing up Barnett and Cohen, including Keith Atkinson, the Bureau’s chief technology officer. Atkinson, who grew up just outside of the city, worked in the aerospace electronics, military IT and communications industry for several years. Meanwhile, he was also playing in bands around the city, which is how he first met Barnett. As soon as he returned from tour in 1998, Barnett offered him a job.


“I figured that it would be a perfect opportunity to combine my experience in music and computer engineering,” Atkinson says. 


And at any given event, there’s a slew of volunteers working the ticket booth, helping with sound or lighting, manning the bar or guarding the garage door making sure no alcoholic beverages leave the building. 


This commitment may just be their way of paying it forward. “Ben has been an amazing mentor and so generous to the Northern Liberties community with everything he has done over the last 13 years,” says Cohen. 


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:26AM

“saw the Jameson Van Horn Band perform last Friday at The Media Bureau for the Benefit for Brazil! Awesome! check them out on facebook, twitter, or ReverbNation...”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 02:47PM

“The Benefit for Brazil Concert was my first experience at the Media Bureau. This place is incredible! The Rock N' Roll Gods must have been smiling down upon us, because despite the at times overwhelming heat, all the bands rocked harder and played better than ever! There just seems to be something about this place that seems to channel creativity. All in all: great bands, kick-ass venue, and I can't wait to do it again. Hopefully it won't be one of the hottest days on record next time”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 03:15PM

“THis was my 3rd experience at the media bureau. I had been there a few times for the Philly Independent Film Festival, which was great. I have to say this was my best experience there despite the heat. They provided plenty of water which was great! I was blown away by the bands and how organized the show actually was. Even at "real venues" sometimes the sound is horrible or bands are late to play but this was very professional. Very Impressed! Go Harmonica Lewinskies!!”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 03:18PM

“Awesome bands. Awesome spot. do it up media bureau.

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5. Pious Traveler said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 06:32PM

“Wow! Great article on a spot I was at 10 years ago. It's great to see Philadelphia support the arts and politics like this and a place like this can thrive.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 06:48PM

“They had an fantastic play last summer during the Fringe Festival called "The Acting Class" - incredible!!! Great to see how much they inspire people to do what they love! Thanks, MBN - Keith, Ben, Bernard and THANKS to PW for covering this great gem!”

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7. Chester Coperpot said... on Jul 27, 2011 at 08:40PM

“I worked on an upcoming web series which we shot at the Media Bureau earlier this month. Bernard who runs the acting school out of Media Bureau helped us with casting, as well as acting in a supporting character role. There is not limit to the resources or talent that flow through the Media Bureau. It is wonderful to finally see this place get the recognition it deserves, great article. Keep up the good work MB!!”

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8. Richie RIch and The Poor People said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 01:42PM

“Hey this is Richie Rich and the Poor People we played the night of the Benefit For Brazil concert and wanted to say that we had a wonderful time at the Media Bureau. Big thanks to Steve and Ben for putting this together and we hope to play at this spot again sooon!!”

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9. Turnpike Collective said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 04:14PM

“Thank you to everyone involved with the show. The Media Bureau; Kieth Cohen, Ben Barnett, Bernard Glincosky! We could not have done it without your support! The bands; Luke Elliot, featured on the front page of the article, Richie Rich and the Poor People, Harmonica Lewinskis, Lower East Side Blues Collective, Jameson Van Horn Band, you all forced us to push through that heat and dance! Big ups to Harmonic Distortion for providing the lights and amazing audio! We are a force to be reckoned with, see you all at the next show! thank you PW!”

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10. 21st Century Fox said... on Jul 29, 2011 at 05:32PM

“Where is this place? I am not from Philadelphia. Looks like a great place for artists to meet business. Thank you.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jul 29, 2011 at 06:42PM

“so glad to see the MBN ppl getting the recognition they deserve. they are absolutely amazing bunch of guys esp Izzy Atkinson and Ben "for future reference" Barnett. inspiring and creative entrepreneurs!! love love love.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Jul 31, 2011 at 08:22AM

“I had my first experience with MBN just under 4 years ago. The quality of everything that they do is evidence of how much passion they have for art.They consistently put on excellent shows and you always feel like you're part of something special and sort of hidden. Thanks to Keith for bringing me there to begin with.”

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13. Jabba the Hut said... on Jul 31, 2011 at 08:51PM

“Rockers!! Haha! Kenny and Jigsey! Thx for that!”

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