Loving the Lake – Arts engagement event to celebrate Conneaut’s story

The Meadville Tribune
Monday, September 29, 2014

CONNEAUT LAKE  ̶  Conneaut Lake Middle School hosts an arts engagement event in collaboration with its Title 1 Reading program, Allegheny College and the Conneaut Lake Borough to gather community stories and share Conneaut Lake’s history.

“Celebrating Our Town’s Story through Art, History, Nature and Culture,” October 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the middle school, serves as the launch event for Conneaut Lake Borough’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town grant, which results in a public art trail connecting the downtown business district to Ice House Park and Fireman’s Beach.

The event features presentations by Conneaut Lake Middle School students relating to Native American culture and local history, food prepared by Conneaut Area Senior High School culinary arts students, and several opportunities for residents to share stories of their life at Conneaut Lake.

Guest speaker David V. Hunt, founder of the Community Building Storytelling Project and nationally known community organizer, facilitates two interactive storytelling and listening workshops.  In these 90-minute workshops, participants have an opportunity to share three to five-minute stories about how the Conneaut Lake community has shaped their life’s journey, what they value most about Conneaut Lake and their hopes for their town’s future.

Beginning at 5:15 in the gym, participants in the community storytelling workshops share and record stories based on personal and community memorabilia.  Participants are invited to contribute their stories and objects (such as photos, books, tools and memorabilia) to a community time capsule, which will be created that evening.

At a follow-up workshop at Fireman’s Beach during summer 2015, the time capsule will be reopened and the objects and stories used in a community art event.  Participants who do not want to donate their objects may also have their objects scanned or photographed for inclusion in the time capsule.  All stories become part of a collection of community stories.

“We encourage year-round and summer residents of Conneaut Lake to  bring not only their stories but also objects related to those stories, if they have them,” said Amara Geffen, who is serving as the project’s lead artist.  “Community storytelling and community listening  ̶  exploring and sharing Conneaut Lake’s history through the lives of its residents  ̶  is at the heart of our NEA Our Town project.  These stories will also inform the design of the sculptures for the public art trail.”

Participants also have the opportunity to record shared conversations, modeled upon the nationally known StoryCorps project, about life in Conneaut Lake and to participate in interview sessions to record their individual stories.

Allegheny College students enrolled in two course that focus on community storytelling and public art will assist throughout the evening, interviewing residents, facilitating the recording of shared conversations, and leading hands-on arts activities to help gather community stories and images for the art trail.
To become more familiar with Conneaut Lake, the Allegheny College students visited the Conneaut Lake Historical Society, Fireman’s Beach, Ice House Park, the Central Downtown Business District and Conneaut Lake Park and also met with local resident Jack Dearing  and other community leaders for an introduction to local history.

The NEA’s Our Town program supports creative placemaking projects that contribute to the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful and sustainable places with the arts at their core.