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October 28, 2010

Storytelling Thrives at Smithsonian Affiliate

Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee

Has anyone proclaimed October “National Storytelling Month?”  I’m sure this would find great favor among the more than 10,000 people who attended this year’s 38th annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Organized by Smithsonian Affiliate, the International Storytelling Center, the festival gives ample evidence that the spoken word has not yet succumbed to the abbreviated argot of tweets, instant messaging, acronyms, and emoticons.  In Jonesborough, the world’s oldest art form is flourishing. 

Begun in 1973 by Jimmy Neil Smith, a former journalism teacher and mayor of this picturesque, historic East Tennessee town, the festival has justifiably earned Jonesborough the title of “Storytelling Capital of the World.”  As Smith recalls, “thirty eight years ago, when 50 or so people gathered around a hay wagon in the center of my home town to tell and listen to stories, something magical happened.  The National Storytelling Festival was created, basically, to inspire ordinary people to share stories.” 

Niall de Búrca, of Ireland, performs during the 2009 National Storytelling Festival. Photo courtesy Fresh Air Photo.

Inspire it does.  The storytelling usually begins at 10:00 am and lasts well past midnight.  Veteran attendees meticulously scope out the schedule and find their seats long before starting time.  Audiences remain attentive and appreciative throughout, absorbed in each session, hanging on every word, eagerly awaiting the ever-unpredictable plot twist or punch line.  Stories range from traditional to personal and from serious to surreal.  In all their shapes and styles, the stories embrace the glorious diversity of the oral tradition, while underscoring what must be a universal human impulse to create narrative out of everyday life. 

Chuna McIntyre presents a Yup’ik Eskimo story at the 2009 Festival. Photo courtesy Fresh Air Photo.

Many Jonesborough storytellers have shared their skills on Smithsonian stages. Ray Hicks, Donald Davis, Jay O’Callahan, John McCutcheon, Bill Lepp, Syd Lieberman, and Kathryn Windham, to name a few have performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Discovery Theater, and at various SI museums and workshops.  Smithsonian staff have, in a similar manner, given their time and talents back to Jonesborough:  Rex Ellis, master storyteller and Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has been a mainstay in Jonesborough since 1990;  Stephanie Norby, Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and Clare Cuddy, National Museum of the American Indian have also advised on educational strategies and programming at the International Storytelling Center. 

(L to R) Affiliations Director, Harold Closter, and Storytelling Center President, Jimmy Neil Smith

The work of all these accomplished folk demonstrates the truth behind poet Muriel Rukeyser’s observation that “the universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”  One trip to Jonesborough and you’ll have no doubts.  Just remember to make your reservations early!

July 2, 2010

affiliates in the news!

Congratulations to these Affiliates making headlines this week!

Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, WY)
As many as 38 Wyoming cultural and heritage projects and sponsoring organizations will benefit from $542,017 in grant awards from the Wyoming Cultural Trust FundMORE

Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (Bristol, TN)
… the Tennessee Arts Commission announced its grant recipients for fiscal 2010-11…MORE

Heard Museum (Phoenix, AZ)
…there are a number of locations around the country that look to preserve these for future generations. One of these is the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art in Phoenix, Arizona…MORE

Louisiana State Exhibit Museum (Shreveport, LA)
State Rep. Wayne Waddell will take the helm as director of Louisiana State Exhibit Museum on Aug. 2… MORE
Director retires
Museum Director Retires

National Museum of Dentistry (Baltimore, MD)
…The annual celebration honors supporters and friends who help the Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, in its mission to celebrate the history the dentistry and to raise awareness of the importance of good oral health in a healthy life…MORE

 

Exterior of the new $40 million expansion of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque.

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium(Dubuque, IA)
…”Dubuque’s already on the map,” said Jerry Enzler, executive director of the facility, “but this really puts us on the global map”…MORE
River museum gets bigger, better

American Jazz Museum (Kansas City, MO)
Greg Carroll is CEO of the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. In collaboration with the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City and the Mattie Rhodes Center, the museum is holding an exhibition of large-scale photographs and artifacts that reveals cultural connections between Africa and Latin AmericaMORE

The Center for Jewish History
(New York, NY)
The Center for Jewish History, dedicated to the preservation and presentation of Jewish history, culture and experience across countries and generations, has received an $860,092 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation…MORE

Ellen Noël Art Museum
(Odessa , TX)
The Ellen Noël Art Museum has been accepted as an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution…MORE

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum (Palm Springs, CA)
Since the 1970s, the Agua Caliente Band and the city have been partners in the economic development of Palm Springs…also is the site of the future Agua Caliente Cultural Museum…MORE

June 29, 2010

kudos, affiliates! july 2010

Despite the economy, there are many bright spots to celebrate in Affiliateland this month.  Great job everyone!

Adler Planetarium (Chicago, Illinois) received a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to develop a planning project leading to recommendations for improving the storage of a collection of artifacts related to the history of astronomy, maritime history, and related fields. 

Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, Wyoming) was awarded a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to begin preparation of a thematic, illustrated digital edition of the papers of Buffalo Bill Cody, a symbol of the American West in the popular imagination. BBHC was also granted $10,250 from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund to develop the exhibition “Arapaho Journey: Photographs and Stories from the Wind River Reservation.” 

The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (Bristol, Tennessee) is set to receive $25,000 from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Raices Latin Music Museum (New York, NY) will receive a $3,000 grant from IMLS’ American Heritage Preservation Grants to preserve an iconic straw boater hat worn by world-famous Cuban-American musician and bandleader, Desi Arnaz.

The Historical Society of Washington, DC has received a $3,000 grant from IMLS’ American Heritage Preservation Grant program to rehouse, preserve and make accessible 3,600 oversized photographs from the Capital Photo Service Collection of 1957-2000.

The Museum of Appalachia (Norris, Tennessee) received a $25,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to install a new, energy-efficient climate control system in the Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Leon Levy Foundation Awards an additional $860,092 grant to The Center for Jewish History (New York, New York)  for Preservation of Archival Materials

Three Smithsonian Affiliates were awarded funds through the Smithsonian Community Grant program: 

Sonoma County Museum (Santa Rosa, California) was awarded $5,000 to fund a family day, oral history day, and panel discussion related to the themes of Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (Mashantucket, Connecticut) was awarded $4,864 to fund two speakers and programming advertisement related to the themes of Native Words, Native Warriors.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, Alabama) was awarded $5,000 to fund a book signing, photography workshop, public program, teacher workshop, and programming advertisement related to the themes of Let Your Motto Be Resistance.

 

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