Rachel Otwell

Reporter & Assistant News Editor

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community & diverse culture. 

She's a graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield, and while obtaining that degree she spent a legislative session covering news for Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees 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, D.C. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

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Carolyn Owen Sommer is a name many in the Springfield arts community will know. Her work is part of a new exhibition called 'Paperworks' opening at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, in the SAA Collective Gallery. The reception is Friday night from 5 to 7, it is free and open to the public. Owen Sommer's pieces will consist of a series of images depicting women and landscapes, they combine watercolor and collage. Artist Teri Zee will have 3D whimsically clothed birds on display, and Joan Burmeister's colorful pieces will also be included. The exhibition will be up through March 1st. We spoke with Owen Sommer to find out more about her experience as an artist in the central Illinois area, and her forth-coming show and exhibition:

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Across the country record-breaking freezing temperatures have apparently led to the deaths of at least eight people, likely homeless, stuck out in the cold. Earlier this week a man was found dead in or near a dumpster in St. Louis. 

While across the country hate crime rates rose after the presidential election, Illinois has passed some laws addressing the issue. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center and FBI statistics - the last quarter of 2016 saw hate crimes go up more than 25% in the U.S.

Advocates say progress was made this year when it comes to rights of Illinois residents who are LGBTQ+.

80% of the families served through Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County consist of women and their children. Shayne Squires is the development manager for the organization. She says a new initiative wants to build a home funded entirely by women - and built by them as well.

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Some visitors to downtown Springfield have been met with a surprise this year. It’s a welcome one for fans of the blues and soul music.

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Every second Tuesday of the month, a roots or folk act plays at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. It's a series that kicked off earlier this year and now has funding through 2019.

Veronica Mullen

Across the country, it appears that a cultural sea change is taking place. Sexism that has long been inherent in society is getting acknowledged perhaps more than ever, in large part due to the #MeToo movement and activist women who have organized as a result of the 2016 presidential election. It’s unclear what lasting effects might take hold.

Rachel Otwell

Bill Crook grew up in Springfield and was inspired to draw by his mother - an active member of the Springfield Art Association. His new book, titled Springfield Illinois: A Pen & Ink Artist Looks at His Hometown, covers the artist's life work thus far. He's been at it for over 40 years. For more information about a reception and reading of the book at The Pharmacy Gallery & Art Space in Springfield on Friday night, click here.

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From now until March 20th primary - the race for governor has candidates buying advertising slots and pounding the pavement to get their names in front of voters.

Carter Staley

At 6 foot 5 inches, Ian Winterbauer is a tall man. And a witty one too - his poems posted online are often accompanied by the hashtag #tallestpoetonearth. He dresses conventionally - usually in a flannel shirt and jeans. He has golden blonde hair and hip, clear frame glasses. 

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For a true sense of the impact Ken Bradbury has had, his Caring Bridge website lends a clue. It's been visited more than 60,000 times and there are hundreds of comments from those whose lives he’s touched, many of them his former students. 

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Rebetika is a popular and controversial style of music in Greece. It's folk music with deep roots. Some have called it the "blues" music of Greece. 

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Mother Nature is Shasta "Klevah" Knox and Tierney Reed aka T.R.U.T.H. We spoke with them about a year ago to learn more about the self-titled debut album and their plans to cause positive change with hip hop.

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In the wake of Harvey Weinstein's downfall due to sexual assault and harassment claims from numerous women - it's glaringly apparent that the issue is not limited to a certain industry or segment of society. Statehouses across the nation have joined in the #MeToo movement. Some are saying state legislatures harbor environments where such activity is commonplace.

Nearly everyone will visit a cemetery at some point in their life - but most don't realize the rich diversity of history they have to offer. They contain insights about folklore, religion, art and society at large. So postulates Hal Hassen, who has been a cemetery enthusiast since his youth. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York where he would explore historic cemeteries. 

Sarah Jane Rhee

October 26th is internationally recognized as "Intersex Awareness Day." Intersex is a term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person has naturally occurring reproductive organs that defy the typical designations of male or female. It's the "I" in the LGBTQIA+ umbrella - and it's not something that is often talked about, even though some studies say it occurs in up to 1.7% of the population.

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The Springfield City Council stalled on considering a resolution that would have declared it a "Welcome City" for immigrants. Seven members voted to table the issue - while only three supported a vote.

Since this past weekend, women and men have been sharing their accounts of sexual violence with the hashtag #MeToo. While many assumed the movement started with actor Alyssa Milano's tweet about Hollywood producer/mogul and alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein, some are pointing out that a black woman named Tarana Burke used the same terminology for a project also mean to address sexual assault.

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A new effort to get kids more active and in touch with their thoughts has come to Springfield's public school district - in the form of yoga classes. It could also have implications for how students are disciplined in the future.

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A measure has been introduced in Illinois as a response to the deadly summer rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville.

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About a hundred students traveled to Washington D.C. last week to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act. Among them was Bruna Cardoso, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign graduate student,

llinois State Museum, Dickson Mounds Museum. Artist, Andy Buttram.

Across the country, some cities are giving up Columbus Day and replacing the designation with ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” The state of Illinois has tried to find a middle ground.

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Time Stands Still debuted in 2009 and was written by Donald Margulies - it centers on the relationship of two journalists who have covered a modern war. 

Kazuko Golden was raised in Springfield and now lives in Los Angeles where she's an independent filmmaker and producer. Her mother was born in a California internment camp, her grandparents lost their home and business before being sent to what was originally called the "Manzanar War Relocation Center" for four years.

NPR Illinois

Dese'Rae L. Stage is a suicide attempt survivor. She's open about that, and about her struggle with mental illness. She's a Philadelphia-based writer, speaker and photographer. An exhibit of her collected photography and oral history called "Live Through This" is on display at the Visual Arts Gallery at the University of Illinois Springfield campus now thru October 19th. 

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A brand new concept for Springfield kicks off in the Enos Park neighborhood. Terrain is a bi-annual art tradition that started in Chicago. 

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I first heard of David Dondero as a teen - nearly 15 years ago. At the time the record label Saddle Creek was getting an increasing amount of recognition, with bands like Cursive and perhaps most notably - Bright Eyes, reaching national audiences. Dondero plays Friday night in Springfield - info here.

NPR Illinois is hosting an art show that offers a unique look into Springfield's and Champaign's punk and D.I.Y scenes, which often merge. The reception is at the NPR Illinois/WUIS station on the UIS campus (the WUIS building is near parking lot B.) It's on Tuesday on Sept. 26th from 5 - 7 pm. The work will remain on display during normal business hours until Nov. 3rd.

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A duo that's performed hundreds of times across the country sharing a unique blend of classical, hip hop and other contemporary music will be in Springfield on Saturday, Sept. 23rd. During performances Black Violin consists of a D.J. and backing band; at its center however are Wil B. who plays viola and Kev Marcus who plays violin. This tour in part is promoting their newest album, called Stereotypes

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