The Long Memory Project
These old songs. These old stories. Why tell them? What do they mean?
“If I wanted a true history of where I came from, as a member of the working class, I had to go to my elders.
“They led those extraordinary lives that can never be lived again. And in the living of them they gave me a history that is more profound, more beautiful, more powerful, more passionate and ultimately more useful than the best damn history book I ever read. And as I’ve said before the long memory is the most radical idea in America.”
-Bruce “Utah” Phillips (1935 to 2008)
The Long Memory Project’s mission is to cultivate the passing down of our community’s stories. Not just the ones considered worthy enough to make headlines and history books, but the small acts of courage, action, good governance and community building—the songs, poems and stories that help us understand where we came from, who we are, and what we envision for our future—both regionally and beyond.
A small, curated group of young songwriters and poets who are interested in the social and political history of their region, gather for a pop-up artist residency at the Neahtawanta Inn, in Traverse City, Michigan. At an extended opening dinner, they commit to listen as their elders share stories, songs and conversations about the past, primarily through the lens of actions, issues, campaigns and other forms of work for change throughout our region. Elders will tell the stories of their work for peace, environmental protection and social justice in our community.
Following this listening session, the artists spend two weeks in residence shaping new original work around what they’ve heard. They can spend their time responding to a direct request from an elder (i.e., “Please write a song about the fight against the Black Rock nuclear power plant”), or in pursuing their own interpretations. They can work in solitude or in collaboration. Artist residencies serve as research and development labs for the arts, providing time and space for the creation of new work and the exploration of new ideas.
These young poets and songwriters commit to a performance to share their original songs and poems. The performance will take place within nine months of the residency at the City Opera House (or similar venue) in Traverse City.
Food, beverage and lodging will be provided for artists and elders. The Neahtawanta Inn serves local, sustainably grown, yummy food. Artists are paid a stipend for their time in residence, and offered a performance fee for the event at the City Opera House. Lodging will be provided for those artists who are traveling to the event.
A local professional video studio will document the residency. Footage will be turned into several short videos to be shared online. These will be utilized both as historical record and as promotional materials for the public performance. The video will highlight elders’ stories and the artistic process.
phase II (NOTE: This Phase forward is not yet funded)
Crosshatch will create a basic open-source toolkit for the model and begin sharing it with other communities around the region and nation. What would this look like in downtown Detroit? In a refugee community in Lansing? In an old mining town of the UP? Projects are intended to be grassroots—driven by the artists and elders of each hosting community. The model is flexible, and could be based around any kind of community work, including political, social, faith based, agricultural, economic or other shared projects.
The key components are these:
- a powerful emphasis on the act of listening to our elders
- the use of an artist residency to support the creation of new work
- some kind of venue for the performance or display of any work that is created
- that the stories are about the shared work of the community, not individual stories (like you might hear through StoryCorps, Inc.)
The long term vision for this project is the creation of a central clearinghouse for these stories. A website, along with opportunities to package stories for media outlets and/or publication as books, CDs, videos or digital media.
We see an opportunity for three amazing things to happen here:
- An ongoing national conversation by and from the small places that make up our nation
- A conversation centered on and constantly reinforcing the act of listening to our elders
- A deeply potent example of the importance and power of artist residencies and the gift of time, space and support to create new work.
Folks who are interested in collaborating, expanding and/or funding this program, please contact Brad Kik at Crosshatch: firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.