ECC 2018 Catch Up: Aberdeen, Lexington, State College, and Grand Forks

Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city. ECC is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit for more, and look for the next application call-out in spring 2020.

This week, we’re catching up with the ECC 2018 cohort to learn about what they accomplished during their 2018-2019 fellowship.

Aberdeen, South Dakota

Photo c/o Matt Klundt

Matt Klundt is a hardware and software engineer in Aberdeen. He earned a B.A. in Multimedia Design from Northern State University in Aberdeen, and has a wide variety of work experience including feature films, advertising, web development and video games. He currently works at Ease, designing, creating, and programming Internet Of Things hardware and software. Matt also volunteers time at the CREATE Makerspace, teaching classes on circuits, programming, video games, and other tech related projects.

Like many rural communities, Aberdeen suffers from brain-drain, losing many energetic and talented young people to larger communities. Overcoming it by creating memorable experiences for young people is a passion of Matt and his colleagues. Escape rooms are physical puzzle games contained within a small space, usually one to four rooms, where teams of people work together to achieve a story-based goal. Matt’s ECC project, Introduction to DIY Projects Via an Escape Room, will bring people to the historic downtown of Aberdeen for sessions in which students will play the room, then have a hands-on class deconstructing the methods and means of how it was made. The goal is to help students of all education levels get excited via immersive play and expand understanding about the practical use of STEAM education. So far, the ECC seed grant allowed Matt to get the escape room built and outfitted with some fun electronics, which he can’t wait to share with the community. He and his team will continue finishing and polishing it to get it ready for the public to experience soon.

Lexington, Kentucky

Images c/o Rebekah Radte

Rebekah Radtke is an Assistant Professor in the College of Design School of Interiors at the University of Kentucky. She earned a Master of Architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interiors Design at the University of Kentucky. Her research investigates how interior design enables social change by applying boundary-spanning pedagogical approaches rather than discipline-specific processes. Since 2011, her transdisciplinary multi-scalar projects have produced better living and learning environments and healthy communities in national and international venues. Her collaborative work includes preservation projects in rural China, design-build projects in Brazil, community-activated art interventions in Appalachia, and education-based design initiatives in Lexington.

Rebekah’s ECC project, Pocket Park, is being facilitated through a community workshop course, in which design students from architecture and interior design disciplines use community engagement methods to address a community need. They focused their efforts on an underutilized lot located between the College of Design and downtown Lexington with access to bus transit, bike parking, and street parking. As the gateway to campus, it had untapped potential to serve students and faculty, nearby hospital visitors, and the downtown population. Using diverse research methods and collaborative design processes, the students identified how design can positively impact the community, using the campus as a living laboratory to explore new ideas to activate public spaces. They used their findings to transform an eyesore into a Pocket Park, building pathways to connect people to the new gathering space and encourage social mixing with new lighting, landscaping, and site work. Over the course of her fellowship, Rebekah also leveraged her ECC seed grant to secure additional funding to create a solar charging station custom-designed by students, with lounge space featuring accessible seating.

State College, Pennsylvania

Photo by Steve Rubano, provided c/o Sam Lapp

Sam Lapp works on projects at the intersection of engineering design, music, and social entrepreneurship. He uses skills in engineering, music, machine learning, and ecology to create a more sustainable and peaceful world. He works at the intersection of the arts and nature to strengthen our relationships with each other and with nature.

Sam’s ECC project, Suna Ansuna, creates connections between musicians, listeners, and natural spaces by filming musicians in the outdoors. Suna Ansuna means “heard, unheard” in Hindi. This project is about voicing the unheard stories of music and nature. We are surrounded by nature of profound beauty and complexity, but without active conservation these natural spaces will be—and are being—quickly destroyed. Suna Ansuna gave musicians an opportunity to share their most organic and natural voice through filmed outdoor acoustic sessions. Sam and his teammates Rashmit Arora and Omkar Purandare then worked with ecological experts, conservation activists, and artists to tell the unspoken stories of conservation in the natural spaces they visit. Their goal was to inspire audiences to go enjoy nature and local music, and also think about the importance of protecting our natural environments. With the ECC grant, they filmed, produced, and shared a series of outdoor performances, hosted an artist showcase performance where community members were able to experience the music of musicians from the video sessions live, and created an interactive exhibit at the arts space 3 Dots, where visitors could interact with the videos through a tactile map that showed the conserved and developed regions around State College. Looking forward, Sam, Rashmit and Omkar are going to continue filming and releasing videos both in Centre County and beyond. They want to have more participative events that go beyond concerts to include drum circles, co-created music, and musical experiences in nature. They hope that these initiatives will continue the mission of Suna Ansuna: bringing music, nature, and people closer together. Learn more at

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Photo c/o Emily Montgomery

As a lifelong farmer and artist, Emily Montgomery believes in the unique power of the arts to create positive social change – even in conservative, rural communities like Grand Forks, North Dakota. From 2012 to 2019, she was Executive Director of the Empire Arts Center, where she was at the helm of arts and facility projects that pushed the boundaries of what the Grand Forks community thinks is possible. At the end of 2019, she stepped down from the Empire Arts Center to take on a management role at her family farm.

For Emily’s ECC project, Art Avenue, she wanted to inform and engage people about downtown Grand Forks through art installations in the Empire Arts Center’s poster cases on Demers Avenue. The concept fit in with ongoing community engagement for the Grand Forks Downtown Action Plan, a draft of which was released in November 2019.

Catch up on other ECC 2018 projects all week on our Stories & Insights page and visit for more information. The call-out for next year’s application will go live in spring 2020.

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