“We are reigniting that flame”

ISC sets seven-point plan for the future

Published in Herald & Tribune Oct. 29, 2014 issue

A mission that encouraged one executive director to move to Jonesborough continues to thrive, growing communities through new partnerships dedicated to continuing the oldest art form – storytelling.

“When you can bring 11,000 people together, it fosters a sense of community,” International Storytelling Center Executive Director Kiran Singh Sirah said. “That community spirit creates a better world.”

The center released “A Story in Progress,” which is the name of its strategic plan, last week highlighting seven steps: innovate, engage, grow, connect, educate, communicate and earn.

The communicate step is off on the right foot with a new digital communication strategy, which recently enhanced bringing the storytelling movement to the next generation.

“Google approached us because our name is getting out there,” he said. “They recognized us and wanted to give us recognition for the work that we are doing. That is because people have experienced things while they are here and they have gone out and told people.”

The partnership with Google’s Cultural Institute will help in sharing the story and history of the 42-year-old storytelling festival. The partnership places ISC among the White House, the British Museum and other cultural institutions that have had historical moments by making it accessible to online visitors.

The project, Sirah said made ISC assessable to 9million people instantly across the world.

He said by working with the Google team, they have created an enhanced street view of the center through Google Street View, as well as a tool to go into the ISC. When the Google team visited Jonesborough, they captured around 90,000 images for the panoramic navigational tool.

Another digital aspect occurred for the first time during this year’s International Storytelling Festival through live stream. That stream reached every arts agency in the United States, as well as Asia, east Africa and Europe.

“The National Endowment of the Arts made sure the information went to all 50 states,” he said.

The festival was also live streamed to hospitals, so people  not able to make the festival for different reasons could access access storytelling.

He said 3,000 to 5,000 people viewed the live streaming.

“These are people that may have never heard of Jonesborough,” Sirah said.

Some schools across the nation, he said, brought out the big screens to watch the festival while having live screening school parties.

“We planted seeds for a flourishing future,” he said.

Sirah said a new seed has been planted for the International Storytelling Center, one in which will not only enhance excellent storytelling programs, but also impact tourism in the Town of Jonesborough and Northeast Tennessee.

The “connect step” was also greatly enhanced through a new partnership.

ISC recently established a partnership with Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort, which is scheduled to open in summer 2015 just minutes away from the theme parks.

The idea of opening the resort stems back to the childhood memories Dolly Parton had on her family’s front porch, telling stories.

“Dolly Parton’s newest hotel is to create a storytelling destination,”Sirah said.

The partnership with Dollywood initially came from communication Jimmy Neil Smith had years ago.

When Sirah started the position at ISC, he wanted to revisit that communication, which recently turned into establishing a formal partnership.

“It’s a kind of partnership based on mutual respect with each other,” he said. “If we can bring people to this region year round, think of the impact. It creates a stronger economic push for the Town of Jonesborough and the region as a whole.”

The partnership will include ISC assisting with training, performances and other special activities.

Dolly Parton,has her own “rags to riches” story that turns into giving back to the community.

“I like working with the idea of what Dolly Parton has done,” he said.

This year, Dollywood sponsored the family tent at the International Storytelling Festival.

The sponsorship focused on helping to nurture the next generation of storytellers, Sirah said, by fostering a sense of how stories can unite generations.

The oldest art form is flourishing again and creating a movement that has united storytelling across the world, according to Sirah.

“ISC is a great comeback story,” he said.“We are reigniting that flame.”

One of Sirah’s dreams, which coincides with the educate step, is to make storytelling assessable in every classroom through digitizing. By digitizing the work, he said, classrooms can see the link between such disciplines as technology and faith because stories tackle and explore them all.

“By using the digital process, it makes it available to classrooms across the world,” Sirah said.

The center is also working on an annual program with the National Endowment for the Arts, which could potentially include the annual winner of Poetry Out Loud at the annual festival.

The youngest storyteller, Anita Norman, performed at the festival this year. Norman was the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

“When you give young people the mechanism to have a voice and recognize what they have to say is important, it offers a sense of validation and recognition that they give and contribute in great ways,” he said. “When you recognize young people it gives them a pathway to have a voice.”




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