Saturday, January 23, 2010

Keepin' On Keepin' On

Even though our sound archives fellowship is formally finished, we've still visited the library several times and have been busy working on several aspects of our overall documentary project. When we were fulfilling our fellowship commitment, I kept a spreadsheet of hours and descriptions of most of our project-related activities. It was extremely helpful in the compilation and narration of our accomplishments for our official reporting as well as being able to see what still needed to be done. It also captured a realistic snapshot of the amount of time that that such an endeavor entails, so it seems to continue using such an effective format to document our ongoing labor.

We've continued to gather and digitize media as we come across it. Our friend Mark recently let us borrow the original Hi-8 tapes of the 1996 oral history interviews with Frances. We had hoped there would be some additional material, but they basically include the exact same footage as the VHS copy that we already had. The good news is that Media Services was able to digitize the Hi-8 interviews, so we now have a higher resolution copy of that footage that we can also copy for the Berea College Special Collections and Archives.

Timi has been going through more bins of her mamaw's photos and memorabilia and sorting out collections of photos to give to each relevant family member. She has also found some new photos in additional photo albums that will need to be scanned and archived with the other library documents. Her brother has a substantial collection of digital photos that we still want to get copies of, and we plan to share comprehensive CD's of photos with everyone as well. We recently borrowed her cousin's copy of a memorial DVD with photos that were collected when Frances passed away, so the collection of media materials keeps growing.

We recently made a brief visit to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, where we met with Sarah Milligan (Kentucky Oral History Commission Program Administrator) and Alisha Martin (Folklife Specialist). The facility is quite amazing and huge, and we definitely plan to go back and spend some more time there. There are several potential resources in the Martin F. Schmidt Research Library that might be useful, and we also have some materials to contribute to their collections. Sarah shared some leads to other archives and collections that seem promising to investigate. For example, a relatively recent book called Staging Tradition about Renfro Valley was based partially on oral histories collected and possibly archived at Western Kentucky University. So even our brief stop was time extremely well spent.

Finding funding opportunities and formulating funding strategies is an ongoing process that consumes a lot of energy. There are a lot of relevant resources to explore, but it is very tricky navigating the ever-shifting funding landscape and timelines. Some of our hopeful prospects have suspended their spring grant cycles, and the due dates for a few newly discovered prospects have already passed for the year. Luckily, Bailey Barash, a filmmaker I met through the amazing Alternate ROOTS network, has been a very generous and thoughtful mentor in this particular area and numerous others.

The planning, proposing, and acquisition of grants and other forms of funding is an incredibly daunting and never-ending task. Even as we explore and add options to our master calendar of proposal deadlines, we are faced with the immediate and urgent challenge of acquiring high quality equipment for the interview and footage phase of production. Our camera is functional enough (though the touchscreen no longer works), but it's an older pro-sumer model that has served us well but doesn't have some of the minimal manual features that are required for the level of production quality we're seeking for this project.

Sadly, there is very little funding support for equipment, and most of these opportunities provide the use of production equipment rather than personal purchase. And the few grants that allow requests for equipment purchases are relatively small and very competitive. We are currently brainstorming some options for borrowing a camera locally, but we are also investigating purchasing equipment over time as we acquire funding. While there are several possibilities for making this happen, we feel the urgency of needing to collect interviews from people who are already elderly.

We recently received an interesting, inspiring, and timely gift from our part-time neighbors, beloved friends, talented peer-mentors, and co-producers of the Clear Creek Festival, Bob and Carrie. We enjoyed a mellow, meditative evening with them while they were visiting over the holidays. As cultural organizers and artists, we share an affinity for storytelling, and we spent a late night laughing, crying, and sharing stories in the Viking Yule tradition of "bragging" about each of our accomplishments of the past year and the greater achievements we committed for the upcoming year.

The gifted book, Spider Speculations: A Physics and Biophysics of Storytelling by Jo Carson,* not only dovetailed with our ritual that night, but it has provided ongoing insight and inspiration during our winter hibernation of reading, dreaming, and planning. Timi has already completed it, and I'm about halfway through it. She and another friend who also received a copy were reading it at the same time, and they frequently and enthusiastically discussed it on the phone as they went along. Now that I'm reading it, I find that each short chapter has so much to offer in reflection and practice that I pause frequently to apply some aspect of its wisdom. As in the Spider story that frames the book as well as much of Jo Carson's life and art, this book has already had a fundamental effect on not only this project but other components of our creative and professional paths. I anticipate that it will continue offering valuable revelations as this particular storytelling process unfolds. 

*Note: Jo Carson is a founding member of Alternate ROOTS and is currently battling cancer. Learn more about her work, her situation, and how you can support her on the ROOTS website.

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