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Communities needs storytellers even in the digital age

Image by Kathy McTavish

I spent Monday driving to International Falls with Duluth cellist and multimedia artist Kathy McTavish. Our pilgrimage to the Icebox of the Nation, the city that appears in every Weather Channel spotlight as the coldest city in the U.S., was to visit Jeff and Diane Adams.

Jeff is the creative director of the Icebox Radio Theater (IBRT), a nonprofit community theater. IBRT occasionally performs live and broadcasts on the radio, but is primarily a podcast.

Old Time Radio exists in the Twin Ports on KUWS and Prairie Home Companion keeps radio theater alive on public stations across the country. But IBRT produces stories across the spectrum of genres, humor, horror, mystery and slice of life.

There is nothing like IBRT as a way for a small town to tell its stories to the rest of the world.

IBRT has been broadcast on public radio stations from Ohio to Alaska, carrying the community of International Falls across the nation. More significantly, IBRT has been carried into the iPods of people around the world, bringing International Falls to their ears.

Kathy is one of Duluth's community storytellers. She builds installations made of digital images and sounds that invite the community to be part of the story.

In the installation "høle in the skY," Kathy included stories from "Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range," a book of poetry by Sheila Packa, the former poet laureate of Duluth. In "radiø plutø," Kathy worked with more than a dozen poets and artists on a multimedia installation. Kathy is committed to telling her community's story in digital sights and sounds.

I was excited to have lunch with these digital artists. One works in an art form nearly a century old, reinvented in digital delivery, to tell the story of a small town on the Canadian border. The other artist works in 21st century digital forms of storytelling. Sitting at a coffee shop in International Falls, we talked about the ways Jeff brings people into his theater to act, create sound effects and learn audio mixing.

Kathy's class, Duluth Quantum Computing Project: Storytelling in a Digital Age, runs through August and September, sponsored by the Duluth Art Institute. She promises to teach anyone, of any level of creative or technological ability, to express themselves in digital media.

We need more storytellers from Duluth. Maybe you can stop by Kathy's class and become one.

David Beard

David Beard is associate professor of rhetoric and director of the Master of Liberal Studies program at the University of Minnesota Duluth.