The Art is YOU

By Dan Schifrin
Director of Public Programs and Writer in Residence

At the far end of the Museum’s Sala Webb Education Center, past the collage of faces and objects comprising the exhibition “Being Jewish”: A Bay Area Portrait, a small steel cottage sits. There are no works of art inside. Rather, the works of art are YOU – visitors whose life stories are as precious as the paintings in the galleries.

Starting on October 12, the Contemporary Jewish Museum will host a StoryCorps StoryBooth, part of its yearlong collaboration with the famed oral history program, selections of which are presented on National Public Radio on Friday mornings. These interviews – one person talking with another, with CD’s given to the participants, the Library of Congress, and StoryCorps for possible broadcast – are a unique opportunity to record the voices and stories of loved ones. (Slots are limited, so make your reservation soon).

To celebrate the beginning of this project, StoryCorps founder Dave Isay will speak at the Museum on Sunday, October 26. He will play excerpts from celebrated StoryCorps interviews, read from his book Listening Is an Act of Love, and talk about his work.

On Thursday, October 30, McSweeney’s editors Dave Eggers, Peter Orner, and Craig Walzer will discuss their “Voice of Witness” literary series, including the new books: Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives, and Out of Exile: The Abducted and Displaced People of Sudan. This program emphasizes one of the moral imperatives of StoryCorps, which seeks, in part, to amplify the marginal voices in our society.

Despite the industrial feel of the StoryCorps booth, its modest size and shape recalls the sukkah – the special outdoor hut Jews build each fall for the holiday of Sukkot, which symbolizes both the autumnal cycle of life, and the temporary nature of our lives. Sitting there each evening sans TV and Internet, its thatched roof designed to make the stars visible, the sukkah reminds us of the importance of conversation, and the ancient tradition of family and friends sitting around the table, their stories the glue that has long kept communities together.

The StoryCorps booth, although fitted with a solid, soundproof roof, beckons us to remember how precious and temporary our stories are – unless we preserve them.


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