Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lao Traditional Storytellers Fellowship Program

Here are some highlights from our final report to the Minnesota State Arts Board on our traditional storyteller project.

From March, 2012 to February, 2013 we convened 12 monthly group meetings training on storytelling techniques, and 58 one-on-one trainings with a master Lao storyteller, in addition to over 42 informal meetings of the Lao Storyteller fellows with local Minnesota storytellers outside of the Lao community.

They went on to participate in numerous mainstream or Asian American events as a Lao American storyteller including the Twin Cities Dragon Festival, the Autumn Moon Festival, Twin Cities World Refugee Day, and planned to attend the International Lao Studies Conference.

We convened four Public Storytelling Performances at the Harrison on June 23rd, August 10th, October 13th, January 18, 2013 with an average of 60 to 80 people in attendance. We organized a 3-day Storytelling/Arts Festival on February 21-23, 2013 with over 300 people in attendance.

Our storytellers also told traditional stories during the Lao New Year Festival on April 13th-15th in English and Lao to an audience of ca. 500. Evaluations were done by journals notes and survey.

This was the first year that we ever attempted to do such a solid focus on traditional storytelling and all of our staff and volunteers loved the process while reaching out to our clients. They made some amazing connections between their program areas, traditional stories, and interacting with them, so it was good to see that influence spread.

Our members felt their stories and lives were validated and they were glad to see we were becoming less invisible after 40 years in Minnesota. It gave them a good reason to venture out of the homes and engage and rebuild our community, and to learn new technology and techniques that will preserve and expand our culture.

New participants were identified and encouraged to participate through an enhanced social media campaign and targeted outreach through our exisiting mailing list requesting leads. Our younger storytelling fellows also had many pre-built networks of friends who were able to come and support us.

During the first three months we all worked together to asses the barriers of participation as the artists and new audiences saw it. They liked the local locations more. Timing was a barrier to most, and concerns that it would not interesting and accessible. Together with the Storytelling fellows we discussed ways to modernize the visual vocabulary and branding image of what people connect to traditional arts.

Our preliminary sense is that the project is sustainable. At the moment, we hope to see how well the apprentices now do independently before determining if additional skill sets are needed. We need to continue to have access to reliable communications infrastructure and networks, and more spaces where community gatherings can be convened in a culturally appropriate manner.

Funding is always helpful, and support from educators to help our apprentices find opportunities to speak and to build audiences may be useful too.

Most of the fellows are young women now, compared to traditional ideas of storytellers being grandpa and the grandkids. Formal Lao wear wasn't required, and so it became seen as more of a folk art anyone could do. The strategies seemed to work well, overall.

This activity was made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.

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