Wherever JP Chalarca lives, his primary goal is to be active in his community. In Asheville, the commitment to those around him has intersected with his long-held interests in technology, resulting in the WECAN Man video project.
The YouTube channel features profiles of individuals within the history-rich West End Clingman Avenue Neighborhood. Chalarca launched the project shortly after he and his wife, Diane Miller, relocated to the area by way of Tempe, Ariz.
“I decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to use this vehicle to capture these stories of these folks that are here — have them tell their story and upload a new video every couple of weeks focused on your regular neighbors, the artists and some of the businesses that are there,’” Chalarca says.
Meet the neighbors
Though he has no previous oral history or audiovisual experience, Chalarca is a longtime fan of the StoryCorps project, which airs on NPR, and the simple power of someone sharing their experiences. He’s also wanted to harness the potential inherent in YouTube but says he never had an angle — until WECAN Man.
Using just his phone and an external microphone, Chalarca asks his subjects questions about their lives and work. He also requests that each person nominate an additional resident for the project. The diverse set of interviewees has included Grind AVL General Manager Curtis Langley, artist Julieta Fumberg and longtime Southside resident Roy Harris.
Through both the series and informal talks with neighbors, Chalarca says he has quickly learned the ways in which WECAN was shaped by the Flood of 1916, as well as its ongoing transformation into a destination within Asheville.
“The parade of people that come through Clingman Avenue that are coming from the breweries down to the [River Arts District] galleries is growing,” says Chalarca, who co-owns the BryceAshe business consultancy firm with Miller. “I see folks making that trek on foot every day.”
He adds that several recently approved housing and mixed-use projects are likely to change the landscape even more, all of which have contributed to his advocate mindset.
“The neighborhood has its own distinct history,” Chalarca says. “It’s been curiously multiethnic and multicultural for much of its history, and it’s just going to continue changing in very interesting ways as more and more development comes through here.”
Chalarca’s initial goal for WECAN Man is to get 100 subscribers on the YouTube channel, at which point he’ll invest in a higher-quality microphone. He also hopes to eventually monetize the project and reinvest the funds in the neighborhood for various maintenance projects, as well as take the technical aspects of the videos themselves to the next level.
“As the viewership grows and as the content grows, then it’ll probably get a little bit more intricate, and we’ll start playing around with different ideas and with different lighting and camera angles and all of that,” Chalarca says.
The enhanced technical parameters should allow him to better capture such epiphanies as the one he recently experienced with artist James Love, whose show Artificial/Art Official — which closed Sept. 12 at Pink Dog Creative — explores his professional evolution.
“James had a very recent self-awareness realization about who he wants to be as an artist,” Chalarca says. “And of all people, one of the inspirations that he has was Marilyn Manson, the singer. So that was very eye-opening and interesting for me to go through that process of discovery with him and try to understand what his own ‘aha’ moment was to set him free that way.”
Along with Chalarca’s original interviews, the YouTube channel also features a 2006 documentary about WECAN, written by Althea Mathews, directed by D. Smith and produced by Foo Dogs Film. Chalarca received the film from neighbor Joe Fioccola after Chalarca took over Fioccola’s vacated spot on the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Committee earlier this year. Impressed by the feature, Chalarca chopped the 45-minute work in three parts and made them the WECAN Man’s initial posts. In turn, he established a fascinating foundation from which to explore the neighborhood’s immense changes over the subsequent years — as well as the ongoing shifts whose impacts have yet to materialize.
To learn more and view the videos, visit avl.mx/ac4.