Winter updates of Made Here Fund projects share the challenges and triumphs of Media Making
As projects continue to be developed, here's a few updates from folks who've reached the halfway point in their process.
The Arts That Shape Us
Vermont Folklife / Mary Wesley
Our Vermont Folklife podcast The Arts That Shape Us is shaping up! The 3-episode series is based on artists participating in our Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and will explore the nuance and complexity of what the traditions "of Vermont" really are.
An apprenticeship is a face-to-face learning opportunity that offers the chance to learn a craft or art form through oral transmission in an informal, often multigenerational setting. During the past 30-plus years, Vermont Folklife has supported nearly 400 apprenticeships representing everything from the arts of native Abenaki and of English, French, Polish and Irish immigrants, to those of Lao, Somali Bantu, Congolese, Bosnian, Tibetan and Bhutanese Nepali refugee communities. These art forms reflect the cultural history, values, and aesthetics of the groups that practice them, helping to shape identity and support both individual and community wellbeing.
Through three profiles featuring artist/apprentice pairs around the state, The Arts That Shape Us will take listeners into the workshops, music classes, granite sheds, and community spaces of traditional artists working and creating around the state. Laying the groundwork for a collaborative relationship with the artists who will be featured in the podcast is central to our production process. This summer and fall VT Folklife audio producer Mary Wesley spent time conducting site visits, spending time with artists and their students in the spaces where teaching and learning is happening. During each visit we recorded an interview and had a conversation about what’s important to each artist as we work on these stories featuring their work. As script writing and audio editing unfolds into the winter, Mary will revisit these conversations, share story drafts, and incorporate feedback to ensure that the final product reflects the values and perspectives of everyone involved.
These initial site visits were documented in three posts on the Vermont Folklife Field Notes Blog:
● A visit to Migmar Tsering’s Tibetan music and dance class, Rolyang Lobling, in Burlington’s Old North End as they prepare to perform at the annual Tibet Festival.
● Heather Milne-Ritchie speaks about the “long slow burn” of stone carving during a visit to her studio in Barre where she and her apprentice, Becky Lovely of Northfield, wield pneumatic hammers and diamond-blade grinders to bring granite slabs to life.
● Vera Sheehan and Sherry Gould’s apprenticeship structure is unique - each acting as mentor and student as they learn and teach each other different, but related techniques central to Abenaki culture: fancy basket making and “knotting,” a fiber art employing natural materials such as milkweed to create cordage and woven objects such as bags or clothing.
We’re so grateful to our collaborators for working with us to highlight how arts and cultural practices play a crucial role in shaping our social, emotional, and environmental world.
The Afghan Women of Brattleboro
Jennifer Sutton and Elissa Pine
In the spring of 2023, we launched production for an audio series about Afghan women who resettled in Brattleboro in 2022 after fleeing the Taliban takeover of their country. We recorded 21 audio interviews with 15 women over the course of several months. The conversations were long and rich, emotionally difficult but also filled with moments of delight. To arrange and conduct the majority of the interviews, we employed two resettled Afghan women who are our partners in the project. They are also among our interview subjects.
Each of the 15 women shared at least part of her story: family history in Afghanistan; the heartbreak and trauma of having to leave home; the surreal confusion of landing in a completely unfamiliar place; the slow process of adjusting to a new way of living. Leyluma fled her home with her family, but got injured in the Kabul airport and, in the chaos, ended up evacuated to Germany with her husband, but not their children, who are still in Afghanistan. Kamila, who also left behind family members, works practically around the clock to keep herself from thinking about home, and in the process, has started a business selling delicious Kabuli Pulao, Bolani, and other Afghan dishes at a pop-up food stand and a farmers market. The determination and resilience of each woman — no matter what paths they are taking here in Vermont, no matter whether they are satisfied with their new circumstances or are seeking change — is astonishing.
After producing an initial profile of one of our interview subjects, a young wife and mother named Hasina, we stepped back to evaluate and revamped our editorial approach. Instead of a collection of stand-alone audio profiles, we are now creating a chronological story arc of their journeys, profiling some of the women we interviewed but not all.
We’ve adjusted in other ways, too: one of our Afghan partners moved away from Vermont, so we brought in a second partner to translate and facilitate. Secondary migration is common among refugees, we’ve learned. Another challenge has been managing the audio-translation element of the project, which adds a layer of complexity and more time to the production process. And in our interviews, balancing the need to gather information that deepens the stories with the equally important need to respect the trauma these women have endured and are still enduring — to not cause harm — is an ever-present challenge that changes shape with each interview subject.