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Saturday, June 10 • 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Stories as Social Justice: Amplifying Underrepresented Stories through Public Art and Oral History

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In 2019 artist Elisa Hamilton received a commission from the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts City under its Percent-for-Art Ordinance to create a permanent public artwork called Jukebox. Jukebox is a participatory public art project that is dedicated to creating a center point for gathering, listening, and sharing stories of Cambridge, with a particular emphasis on celebrating BIPOC stories. The project centers on a physical jukebox that has been remade to play recorded community stories rather than musical tunes.

In 2021, Elisa Hamilton and public library archivist Alyssa Pacy were brought together by their shared mission to celebrate and preserve Black stories. As the archivist, an essential aspect of Alyssa’s work is to ensure that the city’s historical record reflects the diverse community she serves. She has prioritized collecting the underrepresented to bring the 135 year old archives in new directions. In particular, she had been working for over a decade to build trust within Cambridge’s Black community to collect and preserve its important but often overlooked history. This shared goal led them to team up to create a unique storytelling and archives initiative together.

Elisa and Alyssa’s goal of documenting and uplifting Black stories came to fruition because of a special collaboration with the Cambridge Black History Project, an all-volunteer organization whose work is committed to the research, accurate documentation, preservation, and illumination of the accomplishments and challenges of Cambridge’s Black community. Alyssa taught the enthusiastic Cambridge Black History Project members oral history skills so they could conduct interviews that Elisa recorded and edited for the Jukebox. The full interviews have been deposited into a growing oral history collection of Black Cambridge available and permanently preserved at the public library. Segments from these interviews are available to listen to in-person on the physical jukebox which is located at The Cambridge Foundry (a public community center dedicated to STEAM learning) and online at the Jukebox website: www.foundryjukebox.org.

This initiative exemplifies how collaboration, creativity, shared values, and combined resources can support social justice work in unexpected ways. The artist, the archivist, and the community group are partners in this work, and the library itself becomes the critical social and physical infrastructure that grounds this endeavor. This initiative has been deeply meaningful professionally for all involved and has resulted in rich relationships, new opportunities, and an important archive of Black stories that would not have been gathered without the coming-together of these entities. Families have been donating their papers and photographs to help grow the library’s archival collections centered on Black history. Programming created by the Cambridge Black History Project is now happening at the library. Elisa has been invited to engage BIPOC youth throughout the city to talk about her work, and people in Cambridge and beyond are listening to and sharing these stories through the Jukebox project.

This 90 minute workshop is focused on both the why and the how of gathering stories. By sharing our stories, we create an entrypoint to a greater understanding of ourselves and one another. And in the process, we create meaningful relationships and activate important conversations that have the power to foster positive social change within communities.
Using the Jukebox project as a case study, this workshop is designed to offer participants informal and formal ways of using stories as a mode of igniting new relationships and deepening community connections. There are complex social justice issues embedded in the work of gathering and preserving stories. In this workshop, we will discuss these complexities and share best practices for gathering community stories with humility and care. We will also discuss the history of archival collections privileging the White experience.  
Participants will learn the fundamentals of community story sharing and oral history, including interview techniques, use of a digital recorder, preservation of recordings, and providing access to recordings. They will have an opportunity to practice a group story sharing activity and conduct an oral history interview. Participants will leave with a knowledge of the essential tools needed to start sharing and gathering stories in their own community, and an understanding of the responsibility that comes with gathering and holding the stories of others.

Elisa H. Hamilton is a Boston-based socially engaged multimedia artist who creates artworks and community-centered programs that emphasize shared spaces and the hopeful examination of our everyday places, objects, and experiences. She holds a BFA in Painting from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an MA in Civic Media from Emerson College. Hamilton's work has been shown locally and nationally in solo and group exhibitions, and she has been the recipient of numerous commissions and grants to create artworks, community projects, and participatory programs.

Alyssa Pacy is the Cambridge Public Library’s first archivist. Since 2010, Alyssa has established the policies for the Library’s new archival research repository, developing standards for appraisal, preservation, access, and reference to serve the needs of the approximately 1,500 patrons who visit the library each day. She also manages digital platforms to make historic material freely available online, reaching a hundred thousand users annually. Alyssa offers many popular public workshops at the library, translating her skills as an archivist to the community.

avatar for Elisa Hamilton

Elisa Hamilton

Multimedia Artist
I am a socially engaged multimedia artist who creates artworks and community-centered programs that emphasize shared spaces and the hopeful examination of our everyday places, objects, and experiences.
avatar for Alyssa Pacy

Alyssa Pacy

Archivist, Cambridge Public Library
I am a trained oral historian and have conduct hundreds of interviews throughout my career as an archivist. Currently, I am the Cambridge Public Library's first archivist.  Since 2010, I have established the policies for the Library’s new archival research repository, developing... Read More →

Saturday June 10, 2023 3:30pm - 5:00pm EDT
Steuben 409 (Design Center)