Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov,
DES MOINES – The State Historical Society of
Iowa announced today it will present Des Moines’
first annual storytelling festival, River Voices,
June 2-3 at the State Historical Building and Terrace
The festival will begin Friday, June 2, with a Ghosting
concert at 7 p.m., featuring spooky tales by local
elementary principal and storyteller Eugene Fracek,
whose stories reflect his Native American heritage.
Saturday, June 3, will feature workshops, a family
concert, children’s activities, open mic session
and olio performances. Nationally renowned storyteller
Dr. Rex Ellis will lead several workshops and perform
at a special Grand Concert fundraiser at 7 p.m., June
3 at Terrace Hill. Tickets for the Grand Concert are
$50 and include a wine and cheese reception with Iowa
First Lady Christie Vilsack.
“We’re delighted to bring this event
to Des Moines in June,” said Anita Walker, director
of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “Storytelling
is an ancient art form used by human beings for thousands
of years to pass down family history from one generation
to the next. In today’s society, storytelling
may seem like an old-fashioned form of entertainment,
but it’s everywhere we look. It’s in libraries,
schools, museums, churches, businesses, coffee houses
and night clubs. Storytellers do not live on the fringes
of today’s society. They’re smack dab
in the middle of it.”
The roots of modern-day storytelling formed in Jonesborough,
Tenn., when the National Storytelling Festival began
in 1973 with a modest 60 people listening to mountain
men and others spin yarns from the back of a hay wagon.
Since then, the event has grown to include an estimated
10,500 people each year.
“Today, there are about 200 annual storytelling
festivals that take place throughout the country,”
Walker said. “People are really buying into
storytelling as one of the most enjoyable blends of
entertainment and education for themselves and their
In fact, storytelling has gained interest among researchers
who are studying it as a tool that can help children
build higher self-esteem.
A story on The Wall Street Journal’s Web site,
reported on a two-year study conducted by Emory University’s
Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life researchers
who examined 40 Atlanta families.
After taping and categorizing their dinner conversations,
the researchers quizzed the families’ preteen
children on family history, such as how their parents
met and where their grandparents grew up. The children
and their parents also filled out questionnaires on
the kids’ emotional health and behavior. Kids
who knew their family history had higher self-esteem
and fewer emotional problems, such as depression,
and the children seemed to gain a sense of self in
relation to other family members and to the past,
building confidence, according to the report.
(NOTE: Please follow this link for entire
story, “The Power of Myth: The Benefits Of Family
Stories of Hard Times” by Sue Shellenbarger
of The Wall Street Journal Online: http://www.careerjournal.com/columnists/workfamily/20051223-workfamily.html.)
Storytelling is also being studied as an effective
communications tool in classrooms, boardrooms and
operating rooms. Articles about storytelling and its
benefits have appeared in The Harvard Business Review,
The New England Journal of Medicine, US News &
World Report, The Los Angeles Times, American Scientist
and The Times.
In Des Moines, River Voices will feature Ellis, who
also is a teacher, historian and vice president of
the Historic Area at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
in Virginia. He believes storytelling is an excellent
way to teach sensitive cultural subjects in the home
and community to break down artificial social barriers.
“I have seen bridges built with storytelling
that invite listeners and tellers to unite in ways
that are more potent than a town meeting and more
healing than a therapy session,” Ellis says.
“It’s pretty hard to hate someone whose
story you know.”
River Voices also features regional storytellers.
Rita Paskowitz is a storyteller who has delighted
audiences across the country. She works as an artist-in-residence
in schools and communities and in the Nebraska Touring
Program for the Nebraska Arts Council.
Darren Raleigh is a storyteller and emergency medical
services helicopter pilot in the Missouri, Oklahoma
and Kansas region. He has made a living as a street
harper and prefers the folklore and music of the Celtic
nations, though he will tell any story that makes
the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
Judith Simundson of Dubuque threads her folk tales
with songs in the Old Norwegian style, called kveding.
Her tales are told in English with Norwegian charm.
She has toured throughout the Midwest and regularly
returns to Norway. She is on the Roster of Artists
in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and
Individual workshops cost $15 per person. A festival
package costs $50, and includes a choice of all workshops,
the family concert and children’s activities.
Prices vary for all activities. For more information
or to register, contact Maureen Korte at Maureen.Korte@iowa.gov
or 515-281-4132, or visit www.iowahistory.org.
The State Historical Building is at 600 E. Locust
Street in the heart of Des Moines’ Historic
East Village. Terrace Hill is at 2300 Grand Avenue
in Des Moines.
The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee
of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate
for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies,
records, collects, preserves, manages and provides
access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual
mission of preservation and education serves Iowans
of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates
information, and encourages and supports historical
preservation and education efforts of others throughout
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