Arts

Nonstop presents local stories

Everybody has a story, whose content is subject to interpretation by its teller. In the case of Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute’s newest project, the storytellers are four area artists who have created three installations for “Local Stories — An Oral Histories Project.” The stories they tell are of the residents who live here and form the essence of the local landscape. An opening reception for the artists and their work will take place at Nonstop on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m.

In a multimedia installation, Nonstop photographer Dennie Eagleson tells the story of Milly Bell Wallace, who lived a self-sufficient life on a farm in Medway for the better half of a century. Columbus area painter Ryan Agnew interprets the identity of the village of Yellow Springs through a series of watercolors based on walks he took through the town this summer. Local residents Jonny No and John Hempfling initiated an interactive work that encourages people to dialogue about making space for local youth and the relationship between local youth and the police.

The Local Stories project reflects an era in which the availability of personalized digital tools allows people to tell their own stories. According to Chris Hill, a Nonstop faculty member and curator of the Local Stories project, the idea coincides with a national celebration of the stories of average people. One popular example is the national StoryCorps project, which since 2003 has collected local oral histories from citizens around the country for the Library of Congress archives. Another example is the National Public Radio program “This American Life,” Ira Glass’ in-depth weekly broadcast about the “true stories of everyday people.”

“In the culture at large, because the possibility of recording is available through cell phones and simple editing tools like iMovie and Quicktime, more and more people are investigating using media” to tell their own stories, Hill said. But the availability of the tools also begs the question of which is the best way to engage an audience in telling a particular story?, she said.

Eagleson’s piece, entitled “Threshing Day, Medway, Ohio, 1934,” came about through a connection with Nonstop and Antioch College board member Don Wallace, who is Milly’s son and who lives on his family’s historic farm. Eagleson became interested in Wallace’s life as a Depression-era female farmer who canned up to 1,800 jars in a given year and provided a model of the subsistence living Eagleson currently strives toward. After Wallace left the farm in 1986, she donated four generations worth of letters, photos, music and other forms of correspondence that documented the life of an Ohio farm family to the Wright State University archives.

In her installation, Eagleson documents the family’s life through archival material as well as interviews with family members, photographs and sound recordings of the farm. The result is a portrait of a woman that stretches Eagleson as an artist using new media to communicate a story, she said.

The collection of watercolors entitled “Wildflower Honey” by Columbus-based painter Ryan Agnew also tells a local story, but in a more abstract way. Agnew spent many days this summer walking through the downtown, the cemetery, the Glen, Antioch College campus, sometimes talking to people he met, intending to absorb the essence of Yellow Springs and its life cycles. During his visits he painted the natural world around him, including birdhouses of the Glen, gravestones in summer light, and the bees in a beehive, all of which, he said, communicated the uniqueness of a village that is a source of inspiration, healing and wholeness.

The third installation is an interactive work in progress entitled “Public Prohibited/Minor Infractions: The Control and Criminalization of Youth Culture in Yellow Springs, Ohio.” The work is a partial documentary about youth perspectives on their loss of public space and their relationship with the local and area bodies of law enforcement. The work is also meant to be an invitation to dialogue within the art space at Nonstop and online about the danger of accepting a historic pattern of disenfranchising certain groups of people, No said. The issues speak to artists No and Hempfling, both former Nonstop students and founding members of the Yellow Springs Community Youth Council, created to address the lack of opportunity for civic engagement among youth.

“The project is an attempt to make sure that as a community we’re being self reflective and paying attention to the way we treat one another, especially those who have historically been marginalized,” No said.

Local Stories, funded in part by the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, is an artist in residency project and a continuation of last winter’s artist in residency at Nonstop, Hill said. The artists were chosen by jury, and the intent was to get a diverse spectrum of approaches and to engage artists from both within and outside of Yellow Springs.

“In some ways the work has to speak for itself, but different ways of approaching the work draws different kinds of insights out of it,” Hill said.

After Saturday’s opening, the Nonstop gallery will host open hours on Saturdays 1–4 p.m. through October. Visitors may also check the Nonstop Web site for additional open hours or make an appointment to view the art by calling Nonstop at 319-1075.

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