Booth Design

A design by Bryant Yeh for the StoryCorps booth at the Western Folklife Center. 

ELKO – For the first time, the Western Folklife Center’s annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is working with a TED Prize winning app to tell the stories of rural America, where they will become part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

“The work of the Western Folklife Center and the work of StoryCorps, our missions mesh really nicely, because we all believe ordinary stories -- everyday stories -- have a lot of value,” said Meg Glaser, the Western Folklife Center’s artistic director.

A lot of the center’s work has been documentation of people’s stories in different communities throughout the West, she said. “The StoryCorps project is a great extension of that work by tapping into a national movement.”

There will be a recording booth in the Wiegand Gallery at the Western Folklife Center – equipped with an iPod and the help of a volunteer -- where participants can share their stories. The booth will be available for at least a year for the community to utilize. The Folklife Center is hoping to make this space as easy and comfortable to use as possible, said Glaser. 

“That’s the beauty of this whole StoryCorps initiative is they have suggested questions,” said Glaser, explaining this model helps the interviewee have conversations with the individual accompanying them in the booth.

The first step is to select the appropriate questions from that list, she said. However, people are not beholden to these questions; they’re more conversation starters.

Through this oral history project, StoryCorps is trying to democratize their story gathering, said Taki Telonidis, the Western Folklife Center’s media producer. This is essentially a “democratization of field work” by giving greater exposure to the stories of rural America.

According to its website, “the TED Prize is awarded annually to an individual with a creative, bold vision to spark global change.”

Telonidis explained to the Free Press that StoryCorps has a goal to gather stories from deeper within the U.S.

The public service is built on a commitment to excellence, which includes focusing on collecting, sharing and preserving individual stories with “high-quality organizational management; and the care and support of an extraordinary work environment where respect and dignity are paramount,” stated storycorps.org.

“What we felt, and our board member felt, is the rural areas are not as well represented,” Telonidis said, explaining that a lot of these stories are done in urban areas.

The Folklife Center was introduced to the idea by board member Kristin Windbigler, who works for TED as the director of TED's Open Translation Project.

Through a series of meetings with StoryCorps, the company expressed its interest in targeting the rural community to honor important personal stories.

Telonidis said folklorists usually pursue a project focusing on a particular group or artist.

The “neat concept” of StoryCorps allows for the reins to be handed over to the community and ask the question “who you feel should be shared with the community at large and the nation?”

“Honor (document) that rural wisdom that otherwise would not have been captured,” he said.

There are two ways to take part in this: visit the booth in the Wiegand Gallery or go to StoryCorps.me to download the app.

The second choice allows participants who may not be able to make it to the Folklife Center to conduct the interviews on their own.

All interviews will become part of the StoryCorps.me website, the Western Folklife Center’s Archive, and be safeguarded by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. 

The stories will be compiled by participants using the keyword westernfolklife.

Glaser and Telonidis discussed the possibility of assembling a selection of these stories and editing them. At that point, the center hopes to have a community event where these stories are shared.

Glaser said this would be through the ArtPlace America initiative.

This initiative is “a ten-year collaboration among a number of foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions that works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities,” stated artplaceamerica.org.

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