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And So the Story Continues... the Center for Digital Storytelling Becomes StoryCenter


We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

And So the Story Continues... the Center for Digital Storytelling Becomes StoryCenter

Emily Paulos

I like cycles. 10 year periods. 20 year periods.  

Twenty years ago I was holding my son in my arms. Born September 12, he emerged into the world as a long tall bird of a child. A few days later he was given the name, Massimo Sebastian.

Within weeks, he and his parents were headed to the first Digital Storytelling Festival in Crested Butte, Colorado. A little tiny boy arriving into the cool mountain air, with a small but amazing gang of 20 or so characters trying to invent a new genre of communication. They included a small but amazing cast of characters. Massimo slept in a crib in the corner of the old town center as we worked on stories, and shared our ideas about the future. None of us had an idea where all this was headed, but we sensed it had some potential.

The digital storytelling movement emerged from the odd cross section of community-based arts making, avant garde aesthetics, and digital media. The notion of story, and a very, very specific idea about the democratization of voice in the digital era, informed all aspects of the effort. Practitioners would use the educational process of media technology training to create a mechanism for enabling people whose stories were not being heard to make those stories visible. 

That movement, having grown to thousands and thousands of supporters around the planet, gathers again next week in Massachusetts, at the Voices of Change conference. We will celebrate the enormous growth and diversity of this work with presentations from nearly 160 practitioners, researchers, organizers, and creatives, from 20 countries.  

Ten years ago I was preparing for the last US-based Digital Storytelling Festivals, and, along with Emily Paulos, Amy Hill, and Daniel Weinshenker (who had joined our staff), preparing for a big project with Kodak, at the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. 2005 saw the Center’s last significant step change – we had shifted from an essentially two-person organization, to a larger collective of experts and practitioners that eventually grew to eight, with Andrea Spagat joining us in 2006, Rob Kershaw and Stefani Sese in 2007, and Allison Myers in 2008. Since that time, our program staff, in collaboration with an incredibly talented and diverse group of community facilitators, have led over 700 independent projects, teaching some 1,000 workshops throughout the United States, Canada, and in 24 other countries. Amazing to think of the work we have done in the last decade.

Today, we are taking the most significant step since the founding of our organization in the 1990s.  

The Center for Digital Storytelling becomes StoryCenter.  

The journey to this change started some years ago, as we were struggling to articulate the complexity and depth of our work. The Digital Storytelling Workshop has been, and will remain, the heart of our organization. We love helping people make small films. We understand the power of our specific application of this method as a tool in education, public health, social services, human rights, and countless other fields. We will continue to help lead the evolution of digital storytelling in our own practices at StoryCenter, and to help lead the international digital storytelling movement.

So what will be different?  

The main new concept is our use of the term Storywork. Storywork, as we are defining it, encompasses a range of activities rooted in two fundamental approaches: the sharing and development of first person narratives, through group or collaborative process; and the production of an accompanying media artifact, resulting in a text, a photograph, a video, or an audio recording.

We’re often are asked to facilitate an oral sharing of stories, without a media production component; or we're asked to lead people into story writing, alone; or to teach them to design and produce an audio story; or we find ourselves invited to remote parts of the world, collaborating with local communities to make media pieces that have their own set of participatory approaches and concerns. Storywork shares the ethical foundations of our historical work in digital storytelling. We remain committed to the most safe, most healthy, most productive, most transformationally powerful experiences we know to create, within the constraints of resources and time. We have an enormous organizational knowledge base to draw from, as we explore appropriate implementation strategies with our custom clients, and we bring the nuance and precision of those adjustments into our evolving public offering of workshops.  

As you explore our new website, you may notice a few things. We remain dedicated to serving the general public with a range of offerings. All of our traditional workshops are there, but we have re-thought our approach to advanced trainings, moving to what we now think see as a full curriculum in the art and practice in of Storywork and digital storytelling. In the Storywork area, we’ve expanded the trainings growing out of our popular SevenStages/Writers' Group material, adding a new Facilitation Training. In the Digital Storytelling area, new offerings including an Introductory Webinar, a workshop on Image and Story, and the StoryCenter Institute. As you look at our offerings in Public Health and Education, you will see our interest in much more thoroughly serving these specific communities with in-depth discussions on field specific topics and interests. 

Finally, we have expanded our case studies to show the depth and breadth of our custom work, and we have created a new category, Our Initiatives, by folding in the content from Silence Speaks, connecting with the Real Family Project in adoption, and showcasing our All Together Now civil rights project.  

Ten years from now, twenty years from now, I believe we will look back at this point as a specific coming of age – an entering into adulthood, like where my son Massimo finds himself, (and my grandson Sebastian, who also celebrates a 20th birthday this month).  I am immensely proud of our achievements, and I am overwhelmingly excited about our future. 

We will continue to listen deeply. We will continue to help stories get told. We will continue to change lives.  We invite you to join us at our new StoryCenter!