PUBLIC PROFILE: Antonio Melendez, Co-Founder
With fewer than half of the public schools in Josephine County offering arts program, a Grants Pass-based filmmaker Antonio Melendez saw a gap he could fill. Along with collaborator Abram Katz, in early April, they opened the Heartisan Youth Center, a space to offer media production and entrepreneurship classes. The Messenger caught up with Melendez just before the opening.
Rogue Valley Messenger: How did you start film making?
Antonio Melendez: I used to own Rogue Roasters with my old business partner/current board member Jeremy Terwilliger. We were developing our company brand in 2013 and we needed a promotional video. I have been a professional photographer for many years and it was easy for me to make the transition to film making. After winning “best video” and “best coffee in Oregon” at the Oregon State Fair, I realized how much I enjoyed telling stories with video.
My son was born in 2013, and I desired more time with my family so I decided to leave the coffee business and embark on an entrepreneurial journey. I started Heartisan Films as a way to have a more flexible schedule allowing me more family time as well as an opportunity to create a company that would serve local business and non profits with a valuable service. Creating positive and encouraging content was my way of bringing balance to the constant stream of negativity currently coming from mainstream media. Telling stories from the heart and spreading a message of positivity and hope is important to me. I want our work to share the essence and heart of our clients. This happens to also be very valuable to our clients which as given Heartisan Films great success which has led to the fulfillment of another personal goal of empowering the youth in our community through the Heartisan Foundation.
RVM: How did you and Abram Katz meet?
AM: Abram and I both attended the “seeing color” event in Medford in 2016. We ran into each other there and shared our vision of “saturating the web with beautiful and positive content.” Both of us have been teaching for many years and had a shared vision of empowering and cultivating young leaders. From that point our relationship developed and we joined forces in creating the Heartisan Foundation and its projects..
RVM: Do you remember an early discussion you both had about the need and the opportunity for this center?
AM: Abram and I were having coffee in Ashland one day and we were discussing all the things we wished we had as young people. The desire for mentorship, cultivation and a safe place to express ourselves were some key points. We decided to start a youth center to provide that and more for our local young people.
RVM: With two-thirds of the public school programs in Josephine County lackng art programs, what do you think these students are missing out on?
AM: I think students are missing out on opportunities for healthy emotional growth. Art is a form of therapy where we can express ourselves, Expression and validation of feelings and emotions is vital for cultivating confidence, self worth, and the ability to communicate. Our society encourages the repression of feelings with sayings like “don’t cry” and “man up”. Through art and expression in a safe place students develop a healthier relationship with their emotions.
RVM: Why media production? What skills do you think can be learned from producing films that translate to the issues and needs these kids have?
AM: Through media productions students are exposed to various sectors of the community. They have the opportunity to utilize their skills in telling stories for others. This requires the ability to listen, critically think and form conclusions based on the needs and expressions of the client. Through out the process they are required ro engage with adults in the production process, further exposing them to scenarios they wouldn’t normally be in. Once the project is complete they have the opportunity to directly see the effects of their work. Their skills, time and energy benefiting others. All of these experiences increase self confidence, worth and validate them as humans. These are things that help in the development of healthy, more engaged and effective adults.
RVM: There already are plans to move to a bigger space. What will it take?
AM: Our vision of having a film making production studio, classroom and creative center are very ambitious. It will take a large team of committed and heart centered community members as well as funding to create this space.