Thanks to David Novak who guided the Brain Trust Session at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference and gave his blessing for the ideas to be shared as well as the picture posted. More appreciations go to Teresa Clark and Mary Hamilton for permission to share comments as well as to all who attended the session on August 9, 2008 (see names and contact info at bottom).
Our dream ideas as storytellers to further the art in the minds of the general public are often hindered by our working within the boundaries--whether drawn by us or others. We look at current situations and censor ideas purely from what we think is true or unchangeable. Sometimes people dare to see something more.
Then came newfangled Brain Trust Sessions at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference.
One session in particular broadened my mind to think of possibilities I may never have discovered otherwise. With Brain Trust facilitator/National Storyteller David Novak as well as some conference attendees, the premise was given:
1. The answer "No" did not exist
2. The answer "Yes" was always followed by "If"
To better train our minds to say "yes" more often than to say "no", Novak had us pretend that the National Storytelling Network did not exist. How would we function as individual storytellers without it? What might be an obstacle to our imaginations, especially for our vision for the art itself?
Perhaps the creation of the National Storytelling Network (known as NAPPS--National Association for the Perpetuation and Preservation of Storytelling in its infant years) was so rushed to meet the needs of the growing number of members while overlooking the needs of professional storytellers that the full impact--or rather the potential impact--was not thought out in detail.
The whole American Storytelling Movement could be seen with an "accidental" 1973 grassroots kick-starting with the National Storytelling Festival. The phenomenal growth through the decades was partly to more people identifying themselves as storytellers, with some going so far as to picture careers as performing artist entrepreneurs and organizations such as the National Storytelling Network (NSN). Traditional storytelling, such as found on the front porch or around the kitchen table, made way for more of the platform/organized storytelling that is most visible upon the stage at a storytelling event in the creation of guilds and associations.
One by one Novak asked questions of the people around the table at the Brain Trust session to find out individual aspirations. We discovered certain collective dreams that, despite the "nonexistence" of NSN for this exercise, we still needed to create what we lovingly deemed as the Mythical Storytelling Network. Our ideas did not need to fit within any prescribed budget nor be doable with a certain number of staff or volunteers. If ever we came upon roadblocks, we would think around them.
For example, Novak asked what would we do if we wanted to tell stories on the moon. I responded that we would need a sponsorship/commission from NASA. Money or manpower was not the issue. The impossible suddenly became possible.
With our minds open, we were ready to pursue any dream we had for the art of storytelling.
Though much was shared in our group, this idea most excited me: Artist roster of professional storytellers so to approach the National Endowment of the Arts that our art is to be respected and honored.
Storytelling is a category yet to be created for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). When applying for a grant, most tellers either have to decide to apply as a folk artist or as a theatre artist.
During the late 1980s, Mary Hamilton applied as a theatre artist for the Ohio Arts Education Roster in connection with NEA as out-of-state requests were honored. Hamilton commented, "The folks at the state arts council assured me that they took storytellers and would assign my work to the appropriate category - theatre or folk arts." Her lack in theatrical training meant the council connected her with the folk artist category instead.
Upon following this advice, she found herself interviewed by a clogger, a chair maker, a basket weaver and other similar arts. They asked, "Where have you learned your craft?" The folk artists expected an answer like "from my mother" or "from my grandfather". Instead, Hamilton replied that she learned storytelling from workshops led by storytellers. She was denied funds.
Hamilton reflected to the time when the National Storytelling Conference was held in Philadelphia and a man from the National Endowment of the Arts addressed the attendees. In this man's eyes, storytellers were folk artists and encouraged storytellers to apply for grants in that category. He did not realize that some storytellers could not fit in that category depending on individual art council interpretations. Hamilton expressed, "Part is educating--not all storytellers are folk artists. . .or theatre artists."
Luckily Hamilton lives in Kentucky where being a good storyteller is enough to be on the roster of the art council. This allows her more chances to receive support from the NEA.
Other state art councils have education and/or touring rosters for performing artists. Many storytellers are already listed with these and sharing a list of such tellers makes it possible to approach the NEA on establishing a storytelling category.
Transforming Dreams into Reality--
This is the time when feet do the thinking so there is action behind the words.
The Brain Trust Sesssion guided by David Novak had the NEA project surface and everything could have stopped at this point. Mary Hamilton and Teresa Clark both admited that several committees and conversations had been dedicated to the topic. When NSN created a strategic plan around the beginning of 2006, approaching the NEA on having a storytelling category was on the "wish list".
The overwhelming idea of collecting a roster that the storytelling community could agree on may have been one of many obstacles. Suddenly, by going to this Brain Trust Session, Clark understood that we did not have to re-invent the wheel and create our own roster indepedent of any other. We could connect with the rosters already juried and maintained by art councils across the nation.
With such a project underway, it would benefit storytellers to be a member of the National Storytelling Network as the organization's name would build recognition eventually among NEA associates. You could see it as a storytelling Chamber of Commerce in the way we support each other to make great things possible.
Clark approached her fellow NSN Board members after the 2008 National Storytelling Conference and the Arts Recognition Task Force (or ART Force) was approved. Currently Clark and Hamilton are members of this growing group.
With time, I would not be surprised to eventually see a NSN Board Member come from the National Endowment of the Arts to complete the acknowledgement that storytelling is an art to be honored.
You want to be part of the ART Force?--
Contact Teresa Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 529-3276.
Say "yes" to your dreams and see where it takes you.
It seems that the Mythical Storytelling Network really does exist--deep within the heart of the current National Storytelling Network.
About the Brain Trust Group:
David Novak is is a remarkable speaker with a background in theatre arts including Shakespeare, clowning, creative dramatics, playwriting, and directing. Mr. Novak recently received the 2002 Circle of Excellence award from the National Storytelling Network, for excellence in the art of storytelling. He is a veteran of the National Storytelling Festival, cofounder of the innovative National Yakkers Theatre Ensemble, and creator of The Storyteller's Compass, a new method of "narrative wayfinding."
Teresa Clark has a unique blend of history, wit, personal glimpses, and fantasy create stories that are a delight to hear and impossible to forget. Best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history, Teresa entertains and educates wherever she goes as she shares her passion for storytelling. She currently serves on the Board of National Storytelling Network (NSN) as the Western Region Director.
Mary Hamilton counts herself among the many dedicated members of the National Storytelling Network. She has helped found two storytelling swap groups of Tale Talk, when she lived in Louisville, and Frankfort Area Storytelling Gatherings since her 1994 move to Frankfort, Kentucky. Beginning in April 2004 she has served as one of the founding board members of the Kentucky Storytelling Association.
Other Mighty Minds:
Katie Key (in connection with Free Arts NYC)
Kimberly Sheperd (in connection with Rhythm Soled)
***FYI on the Attendees of the Brain Trust Session: Three of us were from the 18-30-year-old age group with a couple members of the National Storytelling Network Board as well as former NSN Board Members and key players to the structure of the organization.
Until we tell again,
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance