Rachel Otwell

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Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces WUIS' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Fridays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

 She's a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

Springfield Art Association and Prairie Art Alliance are becoming one, and will focus on rebranding and integrating in the coming year. If you've been part of the art scene in Springfield, there's a good chance you've heard this question: "Why don't local arts groups work more cohesively ?" 

Money is still being raised to help run the Illinois State Museum in Springfield - even though its doors have been closed to the public for three months. A not-for-profit that deals with grants and private donations continues to solicit, sending out pleas for donations in the mail.

In 2009 a movement was created by Blythe Hill, who had a unique idea to take on human trafficking. Human trafficking is the practice of using people, mostly women and children, against their will for work that includes everything from sweat-shop factory work to sex-slavery. You can see a TED talk Hill gave about her project earlier this year, below. She calls it, Dressember.

Muslims in Illinois are coping with increased scrutiny and incendiary rhetoric. We take you inside a local mosque and introduce you to a business owner in Champaign-Urbana during this two-part series.

Muslims in Illinois are coping with increased scrutiny and incendiary rhetoric. We take you inside a local mosque and introduce you to a business owner in Champaign-Urbana during this two-part series.

Dr. Valerie Hoffman has taught about Islam and the Muslim faith for three decades. She teaches religion at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and has lived in the Middle East.

A fight over locker room access for a transgender student in a Chicago suburb has gained national attention. The agreement reached between one of the state’s largest school districts and the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights could have implications for the rest of the country too.

One of the nation's most historical instruments is getting back in working order.

Earlier this month, people across the country and state recognized Transgender Day of Remembrance. It was created by activists as a way to honor those who have been murdered in a hate crime. Transgender people say their biological sex does not match the gender they identify with. Studies show they are much more likely to face violence and discrimination than the general population.

Human rights groups in Illinois say they'll continue programming for Syrian refugees, despite the governor's calls to suspend accepting them. As of 2010 Illinois has welcomed around 170 Syrian refugees. 

A civil rights icon made a stop in Springfield yesterday to talk about activism and his new books.  John Lewis, a Congressman from Georgia, is the last living member of a group of civil rights leaders known as the "Big Six." Martin Luther King Jr. was also in that group, and mentored Lewis.

Hundreds of artists and administrators met last week to discuss the state of the arts in Illinois. Rachel Otwell reports:

Politics dominated the discussion, with a focus on ever-shrinking budgets for many arts groups, including the Illinois Arts Council Agency - the state department that oversees government spending on the arts.

Funding for the council has diminished from about $20 million dollars in 2007 to less than $9 million in 2012.

One of the state's largest lobbying groups for the gay and transgender community is setting up its first downstate office. 

Black mold, crumbling plaster, leaking ceilings, broken stairs... A home with these problems probably doesn't sound like the ideal residence for a multimillionaire like Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. But that's exactly the issues that have cropped up after years of neglect at the Executive Mansion, aka the Governor's Mansion, in Springfield, which is 160 years old. 

artsalliance.org

Illinois advocates for the arts say Governor Bruce Rauner's plan for more budget cuts is bad policy. Since 2007, the budget for the Illinois Arts Council Agency has already been cut in half.  Under Rauner's guidance, it would drop another 20 percent, down to $8 million.Ra Joy heads an organization that represents hundreds of artists and cultural groups in the state.

Ra Joy  heads Arts Alliance Illinois, an advocacy group that represents hundreds of cultural groups and artists in the state. He was at the capitol this week with about 500 hundred other rally-goers, urging Governor Bruce Rauner and lawmakers to keep the Illinois State Museum open. Gov. Rauner wants to close it, saying the estimated $5 million per year in savings is needed because of a state budget that's billions in the red. Joy says that move is short-sighted and "bone-headed."

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, and the insurance marketplace in Illinois - more contraceptives are available at no cost to women who are covered under the plans. But there is still confusion when it comes to just what methods are included. 

Taste of Downtown was a festival that Springfield had put on for 15 years. But it's gone. In its place is the Bacon Throwdown & Music Fest, also hosted by Downtown Springfield Inc. Victoria Ringer heads the non-profit group. She joined us to talk about the new fest - which will feature bacon as the key ingredient to the food being offered from Springfield-area resturants.

Almost 7,000 people on Facebook have "liked" a page titled 'Save the Illinois State Museum.' Supporters have planned a rally for July 21st. 

Union members have long been at odds with government in Illinois. They have come out attacking both Democrats and Republicans alike for measures to cut or freeze benefits as the state grapples with its billions of dollars of debt. One historical figurehead in the movement for workers' rights is still highly lauded - Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones

ILLINOIS ISSUES - Emma Todd, then a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Tulsa, found herself seriously contemplating suicide, again. This time, the Springfield native had made her way to the top of a building.

In this day and age when people put a lot of effort into making their videos or news stories viral,  there's one sure-fire way to garner some extra attention - put a cat in it. Instagram is full of pictures of cats, and your Facebook news feed likely sees a cat video from time to time. Grumpy Cat is a household name, and face. But what implication does this have with the quality of news we receive?
Steve Myers

Betsy Dollar’s office at the Springfield Art Association, which she heads, is a hodgepodge of computers used for digital art classes, important files, various books and pieces of art. Her dog, Jake, who tends to accompany her to work, is napping under the desk. Dollar is in the middle of a messy project, using clay to restore a historic ceiling medallion that was damaged at Edwards Place, a home that is part of the Springfield Art Association campus and was the original center of artistic activity for the group some 100 years ago. This is the office of a person who does far more than push papers and handle bureaucratic duties; it’s headquarters for a woman who does a little bit of everything to keep the organization she loves running.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. are the victims of domestic abuse. Some die at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them. That's what happened to Maxwell, he was two when he died after a history of neglect and abuse that was never adequately addressed. He left behind a family who will never forget him, and a sister who has worked to cope with his passing. 

Chicago Singles Club probably sounds like a dating site - but it actually is an operation that records and releases free singles, of the musical variety. Chicago Singles Club is in its second year and features some of Chicago's best and most unique independent artists. We spoke with one of the founders, Jeff Kelley, to find out more: 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

University of Illinois officials say they will continue to convene meetings on the prevention of sexual assault on all three campuses. The group comprises about 20 people - including legal counsel, police, and women's rights advocates.

Dedra Williams is the Assistant VP for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois, she says the goal is to ultimately shape effective policies: "If we need to make improvements, we want to be a leader and work with the legislators, with our campuses, and make a safe place for our students."

A panel that considered whether to separate Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the state's historic preservation agency released its findings on Wednesday. Convened at the request of both entities, the study recommends keeping the same oversight. Legislation has been proposed to split them apart. The report also suggests a reorganization of the state agency to improve what it calls the cultures of "politics" and "research."

The Chicago Tribune has been taking a look at the rampant problems that appear to be taking place at residential treatment centers for teens run by the state. David Jackson has been one of the reporters who has been looking at the issue over a long period of time.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield will host new exhibits, features, and events this coming year. The facility's 10th anniversary will coincide with the 150th observance of Lincoln's assassination. 

The holidays can bring out the compassionate side of people. Some might be inspired to donate to charities or take on volunteer work. For one local man, helping the less fortunate is something he does on a daily basis. But it wasn't always that way.

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