This Smithsonian initiative, led by local partners Lanesboro Arts, was designed to connect students with local historical and cultural centers for community-based research, while developing hands-on technology experience.
I served as the project leader, facilitating our sessions, community meetings, and student communications. I also served as the project’s technology leader, teaching students how to use all of the new equipment including audio recorders, scanners, dslr + lenses, and microphones. I designed our ten workshop sessions and assignments to guide students through the creation of each of their individual video projects. Finally, I led the students through audio and video editing software exercises to equip them with the skills and confidence to design their final multimedia narratives.
Brainstorming sessions were held weekly with students to explore topics of local history that resonated with their lives today. Photo by Sarah Peterson.
YATP Goals >>
Learn to conduct local history research
Formulate questions that investigate contemporary issues in rural America
Confidently approach people!
Develop a curiosity about where you live
Exercise critical thinking skills
Comfortably engage in intergenerational conversations with area residents, including their peers!
Apply audio, video, image and narrative editing to create a compelling place-based narrative
Use media as a tool to confidently communicate their local viewpoint to a national audience
THE PROCESS >>
The YATP began with a simple goal — learn how to preserve Lanesboro’s history using modern technology. In the end, three Lanesboro students — Olivia, Mai, and Nora — each created high-quality, in-depth films running between 15 and 22 minutes that explore topics and issues relevant to both Lanesboro and other small communities throughout the country.
The films were completed over the course of countless sessions of historical research, interviews with area residents, content editing, and communications & technology training. “We covered everything from interviewing skills to research and editing ,” explained Dorbin. “At one point, their assignment was to approach people on Parkway Avenue and ask, ‘When was the last time water made you laugh?’” The students talked with a broad cross section of people, including political figures, artists, business owners, families, and perhaps most revealing, each other.
These films introduce concepts of rural sustainability, featuring strategies and resources through storytelling. “These aren’t stories about Lanesboro,” Dorbin said. “These are stories about contemporary rural America. These are stories about issues facing every rural community we know.”
Through their films and participation in this project, Mai, Olivia, and Nora have demonstrated the profound impact of — and immense possibilities created through — including young people in the community decision making process and providing them with a platform to share community narratives. “I have loved seeing their exploration of their environment and community and their growth as citizens, uncovering history and realizing that they are also creators of history and can influence local decision-making,” shared Erin Dorbin, a local historian and documentarian who served as the YATP coordinator. “In presenting this [to the students], we did not want to determine what projects that the students would take on. We had some ideas, but it had to be self-directed because if it wasn’t something that they were curious about, then who would spend hours after school pursuing this?” Dorbin said. The results challenge accepted notions about small town life and reflect something personal about the filmmakers. Each film covers a different topic.
Nora Sampson's film, “Farming, Then and Now” explores agriculture and century farms, from highlighting Future Farmers of America in the schools to talking with 3rd and 4th generation family farmers to visiting the Lanesboro Sales Commission auction house.
REBIRTH OF A TOWN by Olivia Obritsch
Olivia’s film, “The Rebirth of a Town” is elegantly summed up in the question asked at the beginning: “What caused the transformation of Lanesboro from its semi-neglected state to the vibrant town it is today?” Residents’ recollections of Lanesboro in the 1970s and 80s are interspersed with the transformation of the Root River State Trail, from railroad line to outdoor recreation attraction. Lanesboro and its thriving arts community are highlighted as a model for economic regeneration in other small towns, especially those in Southeastern Minnesota.
SMALL TOWN, BIG CHANGES by Mai Gjere
Mai Gjere's film “Small Town, Big Changes” explores why people settled in Lanesboro originally in the 19th century, contrasted with a deeply personal and local perspective on what it takes to sustain a small town in the 21st century. An intimate portrait of community, economics, Main Street and the future of rural America emerges through the lens of the filmmaker, her peers, local business owners, and the town’s decision makers.
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