Museum as Forum
"What has happened to the human voice?"
-Studs Turkel, the late oral historian, from a 2005 interview recorded when a StoryCorps MobileBooth visited his home.
I'm Ari Rinzler and I'm standing in for Dan Schifrin, Director of Public Programs and Writer-in-Residence, who normally writes here. I've been interning in Public Programs with Dan for the past six months and have had a lot of time to mull over the success of our StoryCorps Storybooth -- for the Museum, and for the Bay Area.
The Jewish tradition of storytelling has spanned from the Bible and Talmud, to Jewish folktales, to our own mothers and grandmothers, and to us. "Everyone has a story," anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff said, which "...told to oneself and others can transform the world." With StoryCorps, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, in partnership with everyone who participates, is doing the important work of documenting the personal, sometimes secret, and almost always touching and profound parts of our collective narrative.
I've often wondered if other people feel the way I do about "other people's stories." Perhaps it's my background in anthropology that gets me uncommonly excited when I hear stories, whether of loved ones or of strangers, in their gloriously mundane details. Or maybe it's how I grew up. I was the lucky one my dad turned to when he needed someone to compile life stories of his high school classmates from New Jersey for their 50th class reunion a few years ago.
I've noticed recenly that StoryCorps has done something, in the tradition of Studs Turkel, that has touched people in ways that extend beyond my esoteric geekiness. There is a certain vulnerability and openness that is required when sharing a personal story, and this openness is something that is a special part of the Contemporary Jewish Museum's mission to explore identity, Jewish and otherwise. The success of StoryCorps makes it clear that the entire Museum is a forum for asking questions, and finding answers -- multiple and overlapping, as Jewish tradition teaches -- in both art, and in ourselves.
I like the idea of any forum, like a blog, or public radio or a museum that gives voice to those who are generally not heard. So come, participate. If you haven't been able to snag yourself a slot in the booth for the winter there are still ways to be a part of StoryCorps in the coming months. This past Sunday, the facilitators hosted a very cool introduction to StoryCorps at the museum, including some demystification of what actually happens "in-the-booth." They also played some rare clips that have not yet been heard on National Public Radio. They'll be hosting another evening like this on February 12 and I hear the theme for the samples that day will be love.
If you want to record a story, mark your calendars for March 1, when the next round of slots opens up online (at www.storycorps.net)