The Mission and History of Scribe


Scribe Video Center, a non-profit organization founded in December of 1982 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seeks to explore, develop and advance the use of electronic media, including video and audio, as artistic media and as tools for progressive social change. "Scribe" is a metaphor for the use of electronic recording technologies as a modern tool to document significant contemporary concerns and events.

Scribe uses electronic media to document issues and ideas affecting diverse economic and cultural communities; create media works that comment on the human condition and celebrate cultural diversity. Scribe Video Center facilitates new approaches to visual form and language in an effort to further the aesthetics of video making.


Scribe Video Center came into being in December of 1982 founded by Louis Massiah as a place where individuals and communities learn media making and explore the use of video as both an artistic medium and as a tool for progressive social change.

The first activity was a video production workshop taught by Louis. Scribe had no equipment, no staff; in fact, it really wasn’t much of anything except a group of people who had come together to learn about documentaries and to support each other’s work. Scribe was given workshop space rent-free at the old Brandywine Workshop in the 1500 block of Kater Street. And Videosmith, an equipment rental house, loaned a video camera and deck overnight.

But it was the people who were part of those early workshops that gave the organization a definition. Joan Huckstep, a choreographer, was interested in using video to expand and complement other forms of artistic expression. Carlton Jones, a technological wunderkind, encouraged the organization to explore the technology of video. Sandy Clark, the journalist, prodded us to think of video as a tool for community journalism. The writer and photographer, Emiko Tonooka, was interested in video as a way to come to terms with history. But certainly it was Toni Cade Bambara, the writer, who pushed Scribe to look at video as cultural form that would thrive in neighborhood settings and as a creative tool to explore community issues.

Scribe moved to the brick carriage house with turquoise trim at 1342 Cypress Street. Out of those modest surroundings Scribe’s programs and students expanded. Since Scribe's founding, thousands of people and over two hundred and fifty community groups have documented their hopes, dreams, passions, and concerns in some 350 videos produced with the support of Scribe Video Center. Many of these works represent visions, perspectives and understandings that have not been voiced or seen in any other media, and all of them represent sparks of creativity and daring for the filmmakers.

Scribe has become a nationally recognized media arts education center for independent producers, emerging video artists and media activists, including community groups and individuals. People work together in an atmosphere that facilitates new approaches to visual form and language, encourages the development of the aesthetics of videomaking, and provides a process for individuals and groups to document concerns about and visions for themselves and their communities.

In October 2004, Scribe moved to 4212 Chestnut Street, a 3,500 square foot loft space with multiple classrooms, editing rooms and a screening space. In 2007 Scribe took on the additional role of broadcaster. Working with Prometheus Radio Project, the Philadelphia Independent Media Center, and a consortium of community and cultural groups in West Philadelphia, Scribe launched the community radio station WPEB 88.1 FM, chartered to serve the people who live and work in West Philadelphia.

Currently, Scribe resides at 3908 Lancaster Avenue. We have a dedicated screening room, editing stations and a classroom. Scribe continues to be a leader in the region of using technologies of time based digital media (video, audio, film, web based media) to create important documentary works using our participatory community media methodology, and has maintained this role in spite of dramatic changes in the way media is made and the way people gain and process information.  We are committed to using documentary filmmaking as both a form of artistic expression and as a tool to analyze and explore issues of broad community concern. 

"As a filmmaker, I am very interested in men and women who have made a conscious decision to dedicate their lives to work toward a higher, more civilized humanity. In many ways, our society rewards us for accepting the status quo, so it takes great courage, and often times great personal costs, to dare to challenge the society to change; to progress to something better; to be more humane; to work for a society free from oppression." -- Louis Massiah