Monday, May 10, 2010

Piecing Together Memories With StoryCorps And The Shelburne Museum

VPR Commentary Series Producer Betty Smith shared some behind-the-scenes thoughts about this week's special series, Piecing Together Memories. It features elder Vermonters speaking with one another about their fondest recollections, and about the memories they've begun to lose. These interviews were recorded by StoryCorps, and are included in an exhibit at the Shelburne Museum this summer called Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece. The exhibit includes the interviews, photos and quilts made by people who have dealt with Alzheimer's Disease.

For the past few weeks, I've been part of an ambitious project combining the resources of three impressive organizations: The Shelburne Museum, StoryCorps and VPR. It all started when the Museum learned that it would host the nationwide traveling quilt exhibit called "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece By Piece" that contains 52 quilts - each interpreting Alzheimer's in some way. The concept was inspired and the quilt's graphic images are powerful - to say the least.

As museum staff began brainstorming other exhibition elements to accompany the quilts, someone mentioned hearing segments of StoryCorps' Memory Loss Initiative on NPR's Morning Edition - in which people affected by memory loss shared stories with friends and loved ones. Initially, the idea was to invite StoryCorps to set up a recording booth in the exhibit itself to record visitor stories and comments, but it quickly grew into something more complex - and challenging.

So last January, StoryCorps' Memory Loss Initiative came to the Arbors and Wake Robin in Shelburne, and Project Independence in Middlebury, to record a number of interviews - each one about 45 minutes long. The goal was to select and edit several excerpts to feature at listening stations in the exhibit. Would VPR undertake the editing and consider airing some of the results? The answer was yes.

Ten of these interviews were selected by StoryCorps staff and sent to VPR for editing five excerpts down to a length suitable for possible broadcast and listening stations in the museum exhibit - two or three minutes at most. I got the assignment, and I must say it's been intense. The production process was a little like panning for gold: seeing a glimmer, then finding and polishing an important nugget. It's been very moving. The stories are personal, the atmosphere intimate, and the details range from funny to profound.

And in the end, it feels deeply satisfying. I believe that these stories, with their emotional content, will provide an effective complement to the artistic images in the museum exhibit, yet powerful enough to stand alone on the air in Piecing Together Memories.

At least, I hope so. I look forward to hearing what you and museum visitors think.

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