Stories of the people, by the people: The Be Here: Main Street Initiative

Heather Shelton, MuseWeb Foundation, USA, Heather Shelton, MuseWeb Foundation, USA, Robbie Davis, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, USA

At the core of this project is the belief that underserved communities and rarely seen places have just as much value as those that are frequently a part of the national narrative. The MuseWeb Foundation and the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program have been working with partners across the country to build a network of crowdsourced stories about small-town America, as told by the people who live there, with the goal of getting to people think differently about what people and life are like in these towns while at the same time, encouraging others to understand and appreciate the abundant beauty, resources, history and traditions of rural and small communities across the United States.

The Be Here: Main Street project builds upon initiatives like Be Here: Baltimore, a MuseWeb project that uses storytelling workshops, existing free platforms, and small micro grants for content creators to blanket the city of Baltimore with more than 1,200 geo-tagged stories—told by the people of who live in the communities about which they share stories. This approach to direct storytelling puts the power to create culture and determine the predominant narrative back in the hands of locals rather than letting those stories be told by outsiders–by Hollywood, by the mainstream media, by anyone whose predetermined notions of place can bias the final picture.

Using free and open-source tools, such as SoundCloud and Roundware, stories are shared across a variety of media in an effort to help expose new audiences to small-town America.

This demonstration will shed light on the project itself while providing an overview of some of the free and easiest tools that have been harnessed to publish the stories. Lessons learned for those who are interested in crowdsourced story campaigns will also be shared.

Be Here: Baltimore campaigns