Expanding the Circle

Last week, ISC convened a two-day roundtable with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the National Museum of National History in Washington, D.C. We jointly applied for a special grant to bring together a wide variety of people, whose work involves a cultural element, including heritage professionals, peace builders, educators, folklorists, storytellers, and programming specialists. Together, we explored best practices in cross-cultural documentary processes, public programming, and interdisciplinary exchange.

It was a diverse group—about 30 people in all. There were folks involved in science and technology and other fields you might not immediately associate with storytelling. While I was there representing ISC, it felt like the culmination of something that not only I but also others have been working toward for a long time. Since I was a child, I’ve thought of myself as an artist and an advocate for human rights. As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to use my skills to help build a better world. That’s why I’m so passionate about storytelling.

Obviously, it was a big agenda. With just two days, we weren’t going to solve every question. But we made great progress. Most importantly for ISC, the roundtable opened up new possibilities for building applied storytelling more into our own work as an organization. In the coming months, we’re going to think about using our Jonesborough campus as a space for conferences and cultural exchange—a learning laboratory that will explore issues within our community and around the globe through the lens of storytelling.

For many years, ISC has been known for its flagship event, the National Storytelling Festival, and for its beloved Teller-in-Residence program. Live performance has been our focus, and we’re excited to build on that to bring even more kinds of people into the world of storytelling. Whether you’re an individual or a huge cultural institution like the Smithsonian, we all share the common goal of telling stories that speak to people and help them see relevance and meaning in the vital work that we do.

As we move toward 2015, ISC is excited to be working on next steps for new collaborations that reach across the arts and into other important circles of storytelling. We look forward to finding new opportunities to explore research, partnerships, and other cross-cultural programming. Watch this space!

By Kiran Singh Sirah

Executive Director