When I came in a few months ago as the new VASA Board President, we were all in COVID-19 lockdown. Our annual meeting – the Virginia Gathering – had moved to a Zoom platform, performances and schools were cancelled, libraries and gathering places were closed. We don’t know how long the social implications of COVID-19 will last. The Black Lives Matter movement has opened our eyes further to injustices in and around us. Climate change and partisan politics threaten and divide us more than ever. There is much we don’t know about our futures. What we do know, however, is that storytelling is important – as entertainment, as ways to listen to each other, as a way to share our own experiences, as a mode for healing and creative visioning. It is time to take stock of VASA’s role in the current story space.
It’s a good time to do this stock-taking. VASA is 20 years old in 2020. That’s a lot of stories told, a bunch of tellers sharing, a whole list of workshops offered, and countless story listeners all over the state of Virginia (and beyond) entertained and educated. VASA is an organization that has lots of history and experienced people who know about storytelling. And it is clear that in the coming years some things need to shift. It’s time to see how VASA, as a collection of people interested in this form of creative expression, can respond to the deep needs and desire for story in our communities and our world.
So the VASA Board has started looking at:
- who storytellers are today,
- how and where telling takes place,
- who is listening – and why,
- what people want to learn about storytelling,
- what VASA is good at and can build on, and
- what VASA can do to support others engaged in storytelling who may do something better than we do.
We have come to some principles that are shaping our actions and decisions as a Board. I want to share those with you as we rebrand and refresh the Virginia Storytelling Alliance, 20 years on.
We want VASA to:
- Be a hub for quality storytelling – We want to focus on quality storytelling. We want to teach and train tellers in the art and in the business of storytelling. We want to help improve storytelling through coaching and mentoring, for established and new tellers. We want to promote stories ‘of the moment’, that are relevant to what we are living through. We want to promote a diversity of story types and telling styles.
- Build on our history – We have experienced members, many of whom are professional storytellers. VASA is known throughout the State and the mid-Atlantic as a strong organization of storytellers and story listeners. We know that the organization has a stronger voice than any individual. We want to use our rich experiences and new energies to further enhance and promote storytelling.
- Act on our comparative advantage – We are exploring what VASA is best positioned to do and be, over and above other organizations. We are looking at partnering with groups who can use our skills and talents. We have run many workshops on various aspects of storytelling and have made the move to on-line platforms easily and quickly. We are off-loading and outsourcing activities and functions that someone else does better.
- Use the digital space – We want to ‘normalize’ digital spaces for telling and listening as this is where people are most frequently encountering storytelling, whether they are school children, new tellers, or homebound audiences. We want to tell, teach, and coach digitally so we are investing in an appropriate – and rentable – platform for VASA members. We recognize that geography is no longer a limiting factor.
- Simplify administration – We are linking our online presences to each other to ensure correct and timely information. We are digitizing and simplifying our financial transactions, record keeping, and information-sharing systems.
These are the Board’s broad areas of current efforts. There is still lots to figure out and lots to do. As a Board, we meet about every four or five weeks to share progress, to strategize and explore opportunities that have come up, to work out solutions to challenges, and to tell stories. We invite you to join us in our on-line meetings. We invite you also to share your thoughts, your hopes, and your skills and talents as VASA moves into its next 20 years of storytelling in and around the Commonwealth.
Until another time,