UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 08 Summer 18 Library
The StoryStream at the 2017 UVA Arts Grounds Day (Photo: Coe Sweet)
UVA Arts & Community Partners

StoryStream: Tell Us Your Story

Alan Goffinski, Director of The Bridge PAI
(Photo: Coe Sweet)

Many people will tell you that a lot of the world’s problems would be helped immeasurably if we just took the time to listen to each other more. That is what StoryStream, a community collaboration between The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and UVA Arts, is all about. Designed as a way to bring the Charlottesville community together by building a bridge between groups like UVA students and local residents, StoryStream is a sort of social media experience in real life, connecting people with stories they may otherwise never hear. It is housed in a classic silver Airstream trailer that makes stops at events across town and beckons residents and visitors inside to share their ears, voices, and hearts. Visitors come in and plop down on comfy beanbag chairs and order up a story from a list of topics. It is, according to Bridge Director Alan Goffinski, a sort of diner for stories. Next, they are handed an old-school Walkman and a cassette tape and before they know it, they are connecting with a story and a person they may never discover, while learning more about the unique fabric that binds their community together. Even the technology itself has a binding and bonding quality, according to Cody Simms, who was in his Fourth Year studying architecture at UVA when he was reimagining and programming the space to create the community art project. “We would hand people the cassette tape and it was fascinating to watch how different generations interacted with it,” Simms said. “Some people just a few years younger than the college students working with us had no idea how to use it. And then there was the generation above who knew it instinctively and it was nostalgic for them to teach their kids how to use it.” Simms spoke of the inherent challenge provided by the literal vehicle at the center of the StoryStream experience. “When I saw the Airstream for the first time,” he said, “I was thinking about how cool it was, but also about how it is not very inviting. It is just an aluminum shell. So I was intrigued with the idea of how we could make this something that would sort of unfold to the community.” 

The installation’s natural mobility made it a great way to go out to and connect communities around the area, Simms said. “We decided we really wanted to bring people together. So often we just sort of pass each other and we don’t interact with strangers, even though I think everyone has some sort of story they can share.” Finding the best connection points for getting these stories told involved a bit of good old-fashioned trial and error, Simms said. “The first time I went out to the Mall I brought a recorder with me and I think that felt a little too aggressive – like I was imposing the project on them.” The next try he put up some foam boards with sticky note prompts and stood by while people interacted with it. The third time, in this case, was the charm. Simms took himself completely out of the equation, leaving the red columns with sticky notes and spying from his lunch table vantage point at Citizen Burger Bar. “It was awesome,” Simms said. “It really allowed people to become comfortable with the space before they decided whether they wanted to enter the Airstream. From then on we brought the columns everywhere we went with the project.” The columns are filled with post-it notes featuring prompts including “Name a time when you were at your best,” or “When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably?” In its first year, the StoryStream trailer made its way to a number of local gathering spots, from a TomSox baseball game to the IX Art Park, the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds, and beyond. Don’t miss your chance to “meet” your neighbors and connect to your community like never before when it comes rolling to your part of town!

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