A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday is StoryCorps Day: The Power and Persistence of Stories in our Lives

If you are an NPR listener, you may be like me as every Friday morning I look forward to the StoryCorps feature on Morning Edition. StoryCorps is a remarkable phenomenon. Building on the power of the personal stories of everyday life in the voice and words of contributor, it provides often deeply moving and powerful personal soundtracks of the American experience. It has touched my life in many ways as our daughter recorded a story as a gift about her mother for Mother’s Day as a gift at the  recording booth in Grand Central Station in New York City. The MSU Museum and WKAR also arranged to bring StoryCorps to the Great Lakes Folk Festival for series of recorded sessions with Native American weavers who were in East Lansing for the Carriers of Culture: Living Native Basket Traditions Program in 2007. Today, I have the good fortune to serve as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress—the archival home to the StoryCorps collections.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 40,000 interviews from nearly 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.

As the StoryCorps staff points out, “We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening, and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters. At the same time, we will create an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.” As a folklorist, I fully embrace the potential of stories and shared narratives to bind us together in ways that enrich our daily lives and truly enrich our sense of community life.

One of the questions we get at the American Folklife Center is, “Who uses these collections?” At a recent board meeting we learned that among the most active users of the collections are psychologists and social scientists as there is significant data on current patterns of life and social issues. Of course, the collections are also used by artists, humanists, historians, scholars, and people from all walks of life as the stories often are about shared historical moments in time or personal journeys. Often inspiring and deeply emotionally charged, the collection demonstrates that storytelling and personal voice continue to inform our lives and inspire us. I invite you to record your story-- and also visit the StoryCorps archives at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Simply go on-line to learn more about how you can participate in this incredible window into our nation and its people: http://www.loc.gov/folklife/storycorpsfaq.html

C. Kurt Dewhurst, Ph.D.
Director of Arts and Cultural Initiatives and Senior Fellow
University Outreach and Engagement Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage/Director Emeritus
MSU Museum
Professor of English and Museum Studies