Monday, November 14, 2016

The truth about Detroit and Flint — at Cranbrook?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 14, 2016 at 12:47 PM

COURTESY CRANBROOK.
  • Courtesy Cranbrook.

Letting "regular people" tell their stories has become a profitable business in this country. It runs the gamut from radio shows like This American Life or Moth StorySLAM to live presentations like Mortified. It has become so popular that the professionals were bound to get involved. I sat through a "storytelling event" once where a slim majority of the "regular people" who got up on stage to "tell their stories" were already media professionals — in short, the kind of people who tell stories for a living already.

These days, it's not enough to be one of those "regular folks" just "speaking their piece." These days, there are costly "storytelling workshops" where people who can afford it can have people with MFAs in literature help them hone their storytelling craft. Heck, there are evenbb conferences and conventions that almost mimic the smarmy world of professional writing, with annual events like Wyrd Con, the National Stobrytelling Festival, the NSN National Storytelling Conference, Storytelling Con, the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, the international Power of Storytelling conference in Hungary.

Yeah, 20 years ago, it was a new and fresh thing to hear the voices of the "average person" on the radio or microphone. Since then, the pros have rushed in and sucked almost all the air out of that room. Where do you hear real regular people anymore? Maybe even people of color or marginalized populations who don't work in media?

Strangely, you can hear about them at Cranbrook.

That's because of a collaboration with a group called the Cause Collective on a project called The Truth Is I Hear You. This summer, they took an inflatable recording studio that blows up in the shape of a cartoon-like word balloon, hauled it all around metro Detroit and Flint, and recorded what people had to say.

The only rule was that they sat to begin by saying, "The truth is ..."

And the project picked some interesting places. They hit not just Cranbrook and Detroit's Cultural Center, but also included the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn,  the Banglatown neighborhood north of Hamtramck, the Hispanic Technology & Community Center of Greater Flint, Clark Park, and more. Nearly 1,000 Metro Detroit and Flint residents recorded their “truths” — which will be on display this week as a 60-foot-wide video installation.

The "truth" on offer is all over the place. Some of the speeches are heartfelt and compelling. Others are merely quirky and fun.  Some of the two-minutedrants are about such unlikely topics as telekinesis, others include a young Muslim boy explaining why Muslims are kind and nice people and not "terrorists." Perhaps the cross-cultural dialogue at work here is the most interesting part of it.

Any nary a media professional disguised as a regular person to be found.



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