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"Storytelling Arts of Indiana turns 20

While the act of storytelling has been around for millennia as communication, teaching tool and entertainment, Storytelling Arts of Indiana is celebrating its own milestone this year: For 20 years now, SAI has brought this ancient artform to Indianapolis audiences with an annual storytelling festival, a season of local and national storytelling artists and many community outreach programs.

Storytelling Arts of Indiana (originally Stories, Inc.) was founded in 1987 by now-Executive Director Ellen Munds along with Bob Sander and Nancy Barton. The idea for Indiana’s own storytelling community was planted when the trio visited the storytelling festival in Corn Island in Louisville, which inspired them to bring stories to Indiana. The intimate nature of the storytelling experience affected each of them deeply. Their first Hoosier Storytelling Festival occurred in 1988, and since then the organization has grown to reach audiences all over Indiana.

Since its inception, SAI has become unique within a unique community: It is the only story organization that runs a full season and festival. The only other story organization with such a full calendar is the International Storytelling Center in Tennessee (www.storytellingcenter.net), which also holds a festival and, during the summer months, hosts tellers-in-residence.

In addition to its regular performance season, SAI reaches out to many diverse members of the community, with weekly storytelling at Riley Children’s Hospital, monthly As I Recall Storytelling Guild meetings at the Glendale Branch Library, summer performances in neighborhood parks through Indy Parks & Recreation, a storytelling workshop for teachers and a list of storytellers for hire on their Web site.

The 2004 NUVO Cultural Vision Award winner will celebrate its 20th birthday with two key events. The kickoff of its first-ever endowment campaign will take place during this year’s Hoosier Storytelling Festival. In 1993, Paul Madar challenged SAI to create an endowment. Over time, small contributions solicited via SAI materials were funneled into the fund. But in December of 2005, a longtime volunteer donated $15,000 from her grandmother’s estate, which doubled the size of the endowment. For SAI’s 20th birthday, the goal of an additional $100,000 was set for the campaign, called “The Story Lives On.” Endowment money is used for programming and services, such as workshops for storytellers at Riley.

The second element of the celebration is the release of SAI’s first book, The Scenic Route: Stories from the Heartland, published by the Indiana Historical Society Press with support from Frank and Katrina Basile. A dozen storytellers were asked to contribute to the book: Four were from Indiana, the others from elsewhere in the Midwest — all of whom SAI has worked with over the last 20 years. The book mostly consists of stories from different tellers’ childhoods.

One of the contributors, Bill Harley, will headline this year’s Hoosier Storytelling Festival. “Bill Harley remembers what it’s like to be a child,” Munds says, “so when children hear him telling stories, they think, ‘He knows me,’ and when adults hear stories, it reminds them of what it was like [to be a kid]. His sense of humor is quirky; he looks at life differently than a lot of people do — he’s insightful.” Check out Harley, and other storytellers, at the Hoosier Storytelling Festival Oct. 10-14.

WHERE: Main events in Military Park and the Indiana History Center

WHEN: Oct. 10-14

TICKETS: are $5 per session ages 4-12, $10 per session adults, $30 per workshop.

WEB: For a complete schedule: www.storytellingarts.org or call 317-576-9848


• Carol Birch

Carol Birch delights audiences by restoring vitality to language with a repertoire of stories including world folktales and some of America’s finest writers such as Carl Sandburg and Ray Bradbury. Birch is a skillful weaver of images using facial expressions and voice to provide a dramatic performance. www.carolbirch.com.

• Donald Davis

Considered by many to be the father of family tales, Donald Davis was steeped in the oral tradition throughout his upbringing in the mountains of North Carolina. Through his tender and often hilarious recollections, Davis captures the minds and hearts of his audiences. www.ddavisstoryteller.com.

• Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen Agra Deedy is known for her razor-sharp wit and entertaining style even though many of her stories reflect the trials and tribulations of immigrating to the United States from Havana, Cuba. Growing up immersed in the riches of both Latin American and Southern culture, Deedy’s bi-lingual stories reflect her cultural experiences. www.carmendeedy.com.

• Bill Harley

Grammy Award-winner Bill Harley is a musician, storyteller and author who has carved out a reputation as one of the finest family performers in the United States. Wise and witty at the same time, his work portrays contemporary American life, with a slight off-center bent. www.billharley.com.

• Baba Jamal Koram

As a seasoned Griot, Baba Jamal Koram captivates and energizes his audience with tales from African and African-American culture. By using riddles, proverbs, chants, drumming and songs, Koram brings alive the history, humor, people, music and lore of his people.. www.babajamalkoram.com

Storytelling Arts of Indiana 2007-2008 Season

Shows are at the Indiana History Center unless otherwise noted

• “Scenic Route: Stories From the Heartland” book release party featuring Lou Ann Homan, Liza Hyatt, Bob Sander and George Schricker Nov. 3

• “Heroines, Housewives and Harlots: Biblical Women Who Inspire Generosity” told by Barbara McBride Smith (part of the Spirit & Place Festival) Nov. 8 at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church

• “Christmas at the Southern White Old Lady Hospital” told by Andy Offutt Irwin Dec. 1

• “The George Washington Method for Blues Ukulele” told by Willy Claflin Jan. 12, 2008

• “Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories” featuring Stephanie Holman Jan. 27, 2008

• “What Folks Told Me, and What They Didn’t” told by Lyn Ford Feb. 2, 2008

• “Punching the Lard: True Stories and Tall Tales” told by Bil Lepp Feb. 16, 2008

• “Travel Scenes” told by Heather Forest March 1, 2008

• “In Celtic Harp and Story” told by Patrick Ball April 5, 2008

• “Swingin’ With Duke Ellington” told by Bobby Norfolk April 26, 2008