At this time of year, it is nice to look back to see what led up to today. I’ve led digital storytelling workshops with Sebnem Ozpeta at grunt gallery for the past two years. Much of the work co-created during those workshops is featured on this site. They are stories that begin with the Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver. People who join our free workshop (4 hours on a Sunday afternoon) respond to the theme “Place.”
Earlier in 2019, I attended Canada Council for the Arts’ “meet your funders” forum for artists and arts organizations. I happened to sit beside Venay Felton, Executive Director of the Reel2Reel International Film Festival for Youth. In response to the usual “And what do you do?” we realized we both do digital storytelling.
As a result of that meeting, our Initiative was born. Through Reel2Reel and Our World Language, Lisa G. Nielsen facilitates digital storytelling workshops in remote Indigenous and northern communities. Through the grunt gallery, Sebnem Ozpeta and I facilitate digital storytelling workshops for their Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen (MPCAS).
Late last year, Canada Council’s Digital Strategy Fund gave financial support to our community-based digital storytelling practitioners’ initiative.
Our Initiative gives artists who mentor or facilitate digital storytelling workshops a chance to meet and talk about what we do. Outside of the workshops we co-create, there is little opportunity to discuss our work. Digital storytelling practitioners tend to work in isolation. How do we share knowledge within our specialized field?
Our challenge is that individual practitioners are engaged with some aspects of digital strategies, but not everyone has had time to learn new approaches. At this point, no one is bringing all the pieces back to the group. Within digital storytelling workshops, the idea of a “feedback loop” or “story circle” is common. Our Initiative’s response is to gather digital knowledge and share best community-based practices. We develop strategies and share them so we have more time for our primary work – working with communities.
Addressing this challenge is not as simple as going to Google. Search results for “best examples of digital storytelling” return entries from the United States; Canadian examples are searchable but do not return high-ranking results. The search provides results from university libraries that talk about workshop structure; not content from the perspective of practitioners.
Over the years, a small number of media artists have developed skills in facilitating and mentoring participants during community-based digital storytelling workshops. Our initiative brings together local practitioners and their organizations, specialists in community-based digital storytelling workshops. In the initial phase, we are asking British Columbia-based practitioners to engage in a semi-structured audio interview. By analyzing the interviews, we provide a foundation to meet together in a small conference on 26 January 2020.
The conference is a gathering of experts in this field, people who have led digital storytelling workshops. We’ve also invited people who participated in workshops when younger and are now mentoring others. We have identified visibility as our immediate challenge – recognition of our discipline and the work that is co-created with community members. While our initial idea was to have a database of these stories, the group is pushing for a more flexible approach. We will take advantage of existing databases like IMDb and increase the visibility of our own collections through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies. More details are upcoming in this blog, Digital Stories Canada.
Although the conference is by invitation only, we recognize that there are many practitioners whose work is invisible to us. If working within community-based digital storytelling is part of your practice, please get in touch with us. We would love to hear your story and invite you to join us for future conferences.
We’ll be hosting a public Symposium in the new Vancouver Public Library theatre in mid-March to talk about our work co-creating stories, and to discuss the research study to date. Looking forward, we will seek funding to extend our research and share digital strategies with others nationally in our affinity group of digital storytelling practitioners.