October 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW2
University Outreach and Extension took the lead to initiate a Storytelling Festival in the southwest region of Missouri. About 500 people including children, teenagers, parents, child care providers, teachers, and senior citizens attended the festival and festival outreach. The festival included workshops, storytelling time, a family concert, and displays. Local storytellers shared their stories at 12 nursing homes and senior citizens centers. The event was an overwhelming success because of community collaboration and involvement. An evaluation showed 78% of respondents said the festival provided them with broader views about diverse cultures and increased their understanding about history, heritage, and literature.
Storytelling is one of the oldest means of human communication. Storytellers tell stories using musical accompaniment, interpersonal forms of entertainment, or oral literature to pass tales, cultures, and histories verbally throughout the centuries. Storytellers not only preserve cultures, but also pass on history and moral lessons.
In Jasper County, Missouri, there are local storytellers who tell stories occasionally; however, there had not been an event to bring storytellers together to share diverse cultures, histories, and heritages with community people. University Outreach and Extension viewed this as an important way to share and explore the rich culture through informal interpersonal communication and entertainment, taking the lead to identify resources and to work with diverse people, agencies, businesses, and storytellers to provide a meaningful community event.
A Storytelling Festival Planning Committee was organized in October 1997. Committee members included teachers, storytellers, senior citizens, youth, parents, librarians, representatives of local organizations, and schools. Seven sub-committees worked on specific aspects of the festival. Local businesses and a $2,000 grant from the Missouri Arts Council supported the festival. A storytelling festival was conducted on October 24, 1998 in Joplin, Jasper County. Storytelling workshops, storytelling time, a family concert, and displays were main activities of the event. Approximately 500 people including nursing home residents, children, teenagers, parents, child care providers, teachers, and senior citizens enjoyed tales from 25 storytellers.
Workshops helped participants learn storytelling skills for different age groups, how to enrich curriculum through storytelling, and how to tell family and personal tales. Clock hours and Continuing Education Units were given to people attending the workshops. Children sat on the floor and listened to their favorite tales. Teenagers told stories to teenagers with fun and joy. Other storytellers shared their tales on history, heritage, and culture by entertainment, oral interpretation, and by showing customs, equipment, and performances. The tales included Native-American, Irish, Mexican-American, Asian, the Ozark family, the Joplin area, among others. One storyteller shared her grandfather's experience about the Civil War.
Featured storytellers included an African-American, Native-American, and Caucasian. The family concert was hosted by a well known news reporter from KOAM-TV. It was a fun night for families and individuals to celebrate the art of storytelling. The storytelling festival outreach from October 19 to 23 helped kickoff the event and was successful in reaching people with special needs. Local storytellers went to 12 nursing homes and senior citizens centers to tell stories. A group of 20 Mennonites also shared their culture and history with nursing home residents. About 100 people visited displays to explore a variety of resources and ethnic cultures.
The event was a success because of community collaboration and involvement. About 15,000 flyers and brochures were delivered or mailed. The local media helped promote the program. Six interviews were aired on the four local TV stations. Forty-eight volunteers including senior citizens, high school students, and parents from the community were involved in the planning process and the event. At the end of the event, storytellers, sponsors, and volunteers received a certificate of appreciation for their work and involvement.
Although only 33 people returned the evaluation forms, the results showed that 97% of the respondents agreed and strongly agreed that the overall quality of the festival was excellent. More than three-fourths of the respondents agreed and strongly agreed that the festival provided them with broader views about diverse culture and increased their understanding about history, heritage, and literature.
Implications for Extension
The storytelling festival was a special event to bring people of all ages, families, and storytellers together to explore rich culture, history, heritage, and literature. Again, the event has proved the value of community collaboration and involvement.
Obviously, having input and involvement from local people is a key to a successful program. Before starting a planning committee, Cooperative Extension staff need to search for local resources and key stakeholders to help put activities and resources together. It is very important for Extension staff to act as coordinator of the planning committee, but not to control the group. Let committee members have a sense of ownership and use sub-committees to get the job done.
When developing a similar program, try to involve different generations to share and enjoy being with each other. People with special needs and frail seniors need to be included so they have opportunities to be part of community events. They also enjoy learning about diverse cultures, histories, and heritages and celebrate the value of storytelling together.
Finally, rewards and certificates of appreciation are always a way to acknowledge people's effort and contributions. Overall, a storytelling festival is a practical method to help people learn cultural diversity since the festival can be done in an enjoyable and entertaining, but non-threatening, atmosphere.