Perkins Center for the Arts Presents a Folk Arts & Civic Engagement Residency at the National Storytelling Conference
Today is Independence Day. Throughout the country the national holiday is celebrated with family gatherings infused with food, games and stories just as varied as the richness of cultures that color the United States. One way to collect such national treasures is to engage students and community members in documenting and taking oral histories through an Artist-in-Residency Program.
In the week prior to the 4th of July, Perkins Center for the Arts Folklife Center Director, Karen “Queen Nur” Abdul-Malik presented Everybody Comes from Somewhere: Designing a Storytelling & Civic Engagement Artist–in-Residency Program Master Class at the National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City, MO. The convention was held June 29 through July 2. The 2017 theme, All Our Voices: Stories of Immigration & Migration provided fertile ground to seed Perkins Center for the Arts Storytelling and Civic Engagement Residency on a national level. Interactively, we shared the model with storytellers, community organizers , teaching artists and activists.
The five-hour workshop jumpstarted with a discussion on the need for school and community artist residencies. We shared the importance of integrating storytelling and other folk arts into social studies curricula and assisting community members in raising voice. The attendees identified an imperative need in each of their communities.
Pastor Bill Hairston from the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia shared the importance of engaging our communities through storytelling to combat social issues and present hope and alternatives. Mama Edie Armstrong from Chicago’s intercity added, “ It’s important in creating a sense of identity, sense of place and for giving meaning and value to history.” Teaching Artist Katie Knutson of Wisconsin, now working in Chile agrees, confirming, “When we teach through residencies that blend arts and civic engagement, we create avenues for people to find voice and break the fear of silence.” “Among the Chickasaw, it would greatly aid in healing and creating a safe place to practice and feel emotion,” Stephanie Scott attested. Saundra Aguirre-Magana lives just at the border of El Paso, Texas and addressed the application of storytelling as folk art and its role in exploring critical thinking for creative solutions that plague our immigrate communities. “It is a tool for empathy and understanding”, shared Literature and Culture Professor Keira Jaha of Philadelphia. When we reflect on the critical application of storytelling to engage our communities civically, it is no wonder that Denise Mccormick of Bordentown, New Jersey emphasized the need from a Board of Education perspective, “ It is required by the State.”
In response to New Jersey’s command to develop Arts Integration Curriculum, Perkins Center designed and implemented Everybody Comes from Somewhere: Folk Arts & Civic Engagement Residency for two years at Delair Elementary School in Pennsauken. Students built awareness of and pride in their communities through field observations; gathered stories about family traditions by taking oral histories and created a problem-solving civic engagement activity playing out the roles of the family members they interviewed. The invitation to teach a Master Class at the National Storytelling Conference provided an opportunity to share New Jersey’s art integration strategies, replicate the residency and create similar models across the country. The class helped practitioners move through exercises to reflect on their creative processes, build planning graphic organizers, and review lesson plan content for community observations, oral histories and a civic engagement culminating event.
Through folk arts and civic engagement residencies we help teachers meet English Language Arts and Social Study Curriculum Standards, build intercultural and intracultural understanding, and celebrate our nation’s Independence and Constitution through the lens of immigration, migration and folk culture. To celebrate our Nation’s birthday, is to celebrate the greatness in our diversity. After all, everybody comes from somewhere.
If you are a teaching artist or organization interested in Folk Artist-in-Residency training or if your school or community center is located in Burlington, Camden or Gloucester Counties and you are interested in Arts Residency programs, please contact us at 856-235-6488 and visit us on the WEB.