GTPulse: Long Memory Project Preserves More Than History
I have fuzzy memories of reading The Giver when I was in middle school. What I can remember is a community elder passing down the communities memories through storytelling and teaching. We have history books and media to recount events, but where do communal memories go? When something significant happens in a community, where do the emotions and the details disappear to as time passes? Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology in Bellaire, Michigan is working to preserve Northern Michigan’s memories of hope, activism, social justice and so much more through their Long Memory Project.
The Long Memory Project is an ongoing project that brings together elders and artists from the Northern Michigan community. For one day the elders tell their stories and memories of events that impacted Northern Michigan to the artists and each artist creates something out of the memories told.
Brad Kik, co-director of Crosshatch was inspired to start the project after folk singer Pete Seeger died.
“The local folk community and activist community held a tribute for him at Inside Out Gallery. I went to that and a couple things happened. One, I was the youngest person in the room and I’m not that young. The second thing was I was talking with Sally Van Vleck at the Neahtawanta Inn and she mentioned Big Rock, and I said what’s Big Rock? And she looked at me like I just stepped in something.”
Big Rock is nuclear waste that’s been sitting in a decommissioned nuclear plant in Charlevoix since 1997. The waste was only supposed to sit on what used to be the nuclear plant until it could be moved to a proper nuclear waste storage facility. The waste is still in Charlevoix today.
Local environmental activists have had their share of grief and fear with Big Rock, with concerns ranging from the damage it could bring by being so close to the Great Lakes, to concerns of how it will be transported once a permanent facility is determined.
Brad was shocked that he hadn’t heard of Big Rock sooner and questioned why these displays of activism weren’t transcending to the younger generations.
“Where’s the transmission of this history down to young artists? And the stories. How do you go find these stories?”
The Long Memory Project elder requirements are anybody who is over 60 and ideally, has lived in the region for awhile. The artists are artists from a residency program put on by Crosshatch. The Artist Residency provides a space and program for local artists to have dedicated, unspoiled work time to dedicate to their artistry. The provided cabin for the residency sits on a large plot of wilderness in Mancelona. The Walden Pond-esque getaway has housed, painters, musicians and writers through the residency program that lasts anywhere from two to four weeks.
“It was our Board of President’s grandparents house, it’s this beautiful little log cabin. We threw a piano in there and stocked the kitchen. It’s out there, it’s secluded so we make sure they’re comfortable with that, but they have no distractions. It’s a place where artists finish projects.”
The Long Memory Project has completed its first year and is preparing for it’s 2020 project. The 2019 project focused on Big Rock and the stories told were from elders that had been involved as activists. The 2020 Long Memory Project will focus on the LGBTQ community, particularly in rural Michigan. Traverse City has made great strides in being a welcoming community to all, but Northern Michigan as a whole still has a long way to go. In year’s past it has only been more difficult to be a queer person, and that difficulty is magnified by not be connected to a large city with an LGBTQ community.
Crosshatch is working with Up North Pride on the upcoming Long Memory Project and already has LGBTQ artists for residency.
The Long Memory Project isn’t about recording hours of tape recorded interviews or digging through newspaper archives, it’s about preserving the emotion inside of history.
“It’s about the human connection, it’s about the person listening rather than a recording sitting on a shelf somewhere. I’d like to see the program go long enough for an artist to return back as an elder.”