Monday, September 21, 2009

[murmur] Orange

Yesterday I attended a wonderful party celebrating the launch of [murmur] Orange, a new project telling stories of the city in the words of its citizens. Over the summer, teenagers collected and edited stories about places. These were edited and posted on the web. Then organizers installed signs at the spots, informing passersby that they could hear a story by calling a number and entering the location's code.

At the party, the youth talked about their experience of doing the project. They agreed that they had gotten to know their city in a whole new way. The stories helped them understand and take pride in their hometown. They hope that people who listen to the stories will share this new awareness of the city.

To that end, the [murmur] organizers -- Shawn Micallef and Robin Elliott of Toronto -- proposed that we all go out on an algorithmic psychogeographic walk. This is a pretty random walk through a city, governed by directions like "Walk two blocks, turn right, walk two blocks turn right, walk one block, turn left." My team and I wandered around the Valley's old industrial sites. We stopped by the great local restaurant, Bella Italia, which is one of the [murmur] sites. We didn't immediately see the small green ear which is the [murmur] signature sign, so we asked at the restaurant. The maitre d' said we'd find on the side, and we did. We called the number, and heard a story about a young man who celebrated his eighth grade graduation at the restaurant and won the prize for best dressed. He won a hat covered with glitter. "I have a love/hate relationship with that hat," he chuckled.

Molly Rose Kaufman, community organizer, and Khemani Gibson, one of the youths involved in the project, shared their enthusiasm in an interview on public radio. The stories and the storytellers reveal a complex and dynamic little city, willing to share its hopes and scars through this new medium of digital storytelling. For more info on the project, check out the Star-Ledger article, which appeared on September 29, 2009.

ps--I'm one of the people interviewed and I tell a story about growing up in the historic Unitarian Universalist Church on Ben Jones Street.

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