How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
The project was implemented in three phases.
A Middlebury College class led by Professor John Elder spent three months collecting the stories of town residents. Among the 50 townspeople interviewed were elders, youth, landowners, farmers, town officials and local historians. Trained by the Vermont Folklife Center, the students asked residents to talk about their lives in Starksboro and allowed themes to emerge. The students produced audio and video clips, audio slide shows and a book of stories and interactive maps, which are available on the project website and are archived at the Vermont Folklife Center and the Starksboro Town Library. The storytelling phase culminated with a town-wide community supper and celebration attended by about 250 people, at which the Middlebury College students shared their final edited stories. The students distributed a book of Starksboro Stories (published by the College) to every family attending. The Middlebury class blog site, “Stories from a Vermont Town,” contains stories, video clips and discussions about how to make this project as valuable as possible to the people of Starksboro.
2.Conversation and Vision: From Stories to Art.
Artist, Matthew Perry of the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington, Vermont served as the Artist-in-Residence. Perry is known for drawing together diverse citizens—such as volunteer fire fighters and town board members, landowners and schoolchildren, old timers and newcomers—helping them address community issues through a variety of art forms. Perry worked in the community over nine months, often using an old school bus he converted to an “art bus” or mobile studio. He helped residents turn some of the community stories into works of art that celebrate life in Starksboro and provoked discussion about what should be preserved or changed. His initial projects have included stringing up a clothesline with t-shirts at town meeting, on which residents could “air their dirty laundry” (concerns) and develop “washing instructions” (solutions); and helping residents paint sap buckets at a local sugaring celebration, which was displayed and auctioned off. A group of Starksboro high school students also interviewed community members and created sculptures that reflected what they heard. Throughout the process, Starksboro hosted celebrations to showcase the artworks, facilitate conversations and help flesh out the community’s beliefs and aspirations. Along with the Artist-in-Residence, the schools and other community groups worked on similar projects, integrating student art with the community presentations. Perry’s final piece that was gifted to the Town, was a wood carved community map that captured the stories, histories and lives of Starksboro.
Have they been refined over time?
3. Taking Action: From Art to Action.
In the final project phase, townspeople identified ways to reflect their shared values in concrete actions, policies and choices shaping the future of their community. Starksboro will use the project results to strengthen and implement its Town Plan and other community development projects including renovations to historic public buildings and development of trails and pedestrian paths in the Village. In addition, the school has continued storytelling and engaging students in civic projects. Local artists have been involved with developing artwork for the trails and hosting workshops in the school and mobile home park. The entire process was documented by a local film maker and the final video has been shared with local and regional audiences.