To celebrate and share the conversations of Alton residents recorded by StoryCorps for the Untold Black Stories project, large-format portraits of over 30 participants have been commissioned for storefront windows in downtown Alton to engage the community with these Untold Black Stories of Alton. Through this audio tour and photography exhibit, a rich and often untold history unfolds.

"These are personal stories of family devotion, faith, dedication to hard work, friendship, honor, and reciprocity," a press release states. "They are filled with laughter, humility, and respect. We see ourselves in these stories. They help us find our way back to one another and imagine a more inclusive society." 

Fifteen portraits featuring the participants are displayed in storefront windows of eight buildings along the Broadway corridor in Alton from May 15 through July 11. The walkable route is one mile and takes walkers on a visual listening tour to My Just Desserts, Madison County Urban League, former Karen's Crafts, Williams Office Products, the Alton School District office, former Alton Refrigeration, The Conservatory, and Jacoby Arts Center. Simply wander downtown Alton and scan the QR code at any location to receive the map and audio excerpts for the audio tour experience.

 

StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. Their goal is to create an invaluable archive for future generations. Alton residents whose conversations were recorded for the project include Aaron Atkins and Ariyah Smith, Courteney Wilson and Nana Becoat, Nancy Becoat and Leah Becoat, Faye Taylor and Wanda Walker, Tracey Northern and Eric Walker, Rosetta Brown and Abe Lee Barham, Amiah Williams and Antione Williams, George Terry, Diane Ingram, Carson Ingram and Faye Taylor, Jason Harrison and Willie Franklin, Bryden Barnes and Norman Barnes, J. Eric Robinson and Stephanie Young, Gregory Harrison and Jason Harrison, Autumn Brown and Jasmine Hardimon, Steve Potter and Lloyd Johnson, and Yvonne Campbell and Evelyn Campbell.

 

The guided audio tour is available at https://explore.riversandroutes.com, and is instantly delivered via text and email with no app to download. Five-minute excerpts of the conversations can be heard there, and the full 40-minute original StoryCorps recordings can be found at www.jacobyartscenter.org/untoldblackstories

“These portraits will animate the Downtown Arts District with striking imagery to further engage our community in these Untold Black Stories of Alton and celebrate participants who shared their stories,” said Rachel Lappin, executive director of Jacoby Arts Center. “The mixed media experience will be accessible 24/7 for locals and tourists alike. In other words, this is a museum-like outdoor art exhibition throughout downtown.”

The project will evolve into the future with the opportunity for residents to record additional stories. Sign-up to be notified of future recording opportunities at www.jacobyartscenter.org/untoldblackstories

Upcoming events related to the project include:

The Untold Black Stories of Alton Visual Listening Tour Exhibit Opening will take place at 6 p.m. Friday, June 4, at Jacoby Arts Center. The event is open to the public for the community to meet and celebrate the participants as well as the artists of the Untold Black Stories in Contemporary Art Exhibition and participate in the Collaborative Community Art Installation

 

A Collaborative Community Art Installation will take place through July 1. To further engage the community in Untold Black Stories of Alton, visual artists will invite the community to create individual visual art “stories”, both at Jacoby Arts Center as well as at public events in the Alton area.  A collection of fabric stories will integrate into a large collaborative community visual art piece that represents this diverse and unique community. Fabric Stories will represent personal stories and emotions from the community of Alton. Each fabric strand of color and texture represents an idea, emotion, and story. Often, words aren’t enough to communicate. A final visual portrait will be completed and on display through 2021, then moved to other areas to continue sharing and engaging with Untold Black Stories of Alton.

 

The Untold Black Stories in Contemporary Art Exhibition will take place from June 2 through July 11. To further engage our community in Untold Black Stories, visual artists nationwide will be invited to submit their work for a showcase of art exploring the theme “Untold Black Stories.” Art of all media will be reviewed by a committee and selected pieces will be displayed in an exhibition at Jacoby Arts Center Main Gallery. Special emphasis will be placed on interactive art to help the community engage with the art and stories presented. The exhibit will run through June to align with local Juneteenth celebrations. Jacoby Arts Center will facilitate community discussion and art through the exhibition.

This project is a collaboration between Jacoby Arts Center, Alton Main Street, Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau, All Town, USA, and Hayner Public Library designed to catalyze diversity, inclusivity and equity within the downtown Alton historic district and engage the community with these Untold Black Stories of Alton. Professional Photography by Bishoppe Kamusinga and Cedric Parker. Graphic design by Tyrone Stevenson.

The StoryCorps conversations will be archived at Hayner Public Library as well as the Library of Congress. Printing of the portraits is sponsored by The Mythic Mississippi Project, a public engagement venture of the University of Illinois that promotes community development through Cultural Heritage programming.

This project was made possible with support from Illinois Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly.

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