"Those are your people" is what a friend said to me after I described the Louisville Oral History Association Conference. On the first day I hung out with an army medical historian interviewing soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, a documentary filmmaker interviewing loggers and environmentalists in the California Redwoods, a curator interviewing people who experienced desegregated busing in Indianapolis, a historian interviewing national forest residents in the Appalachians, and a Holocaust Museum employee interviewing survivors all over the world.
I felt so alive. Here was a conference where people wanted to hear your stories as much as they wanted to tell their own, where they listened as much as they talked.
One of the highlights was "historymaker" Timule Black talking about black migration to Chicago and hearing him refer to Studs Terkel as "Studsie." On the third day, I took a Touchable Stories workshop from conceptual artist Shannon Flattery, where we explored the many ways to create a space for the stories we make.
Flattery is super community-oriented. Her touchable stories ]focus on what's most important to people about the places where they live. Her exhibits are participatory: audiences must be active rather than passive as they walk through her story spaces.
First thing, she sent into the Louisville streets--an activity she uses with her artists (she employs up to twenty for each exhibit she creates)--and "map" it sensually. She told us to look for details that weren't necessarily obvious. As we collected things, we would begin to see how the physical details of a place pattern themselves into an abstract concept.
I walked around with Ruth Howard, director of Jumbles Theater in Toronto. Ruth drew on a sketchpad and I snapped photos. It forced me beyond stereotype and my own rigid ideas about what I should find as a tourist on a city street: