Object Stories: Storytelling and Community Collaboration

Katie Burns, USA , Mike Murawski, USA

The Portland Art Museum and its interactive partner Fashionbuddha have been working together on an innovative education initiative called Object Stories. Launched in March 2010, Object Stories invites visitors to record their own narratives about personal objects—whether a piece of clothing, a cherished record album, or a family heirloom. By capturing, honoring, and sharing participants’ stories, this project aims to demystify the Museum, making it more accessible, welcoming, and meaningful to a greater diversity of communities – while continuing to highlight the inherent relationship between people and things. Nearly one thousand people from throughout Portland—most of who had never before set foot in the Museum—have participated as storytellers in this project. The Museum has also produced a series of Object Stories that brings out personal perspectives on selected objects in the permanent collection, with recordings of the voices of museum staff, local artists, and cultural partners. This stage of the project has added a personal dimension to visitors’ experiences and their interpretation around works of art in the collection.

Together, The Portland Art Museum and Fashionbuddha are propelling this project forward. To date, we have created an interactive gallery and recording booth inside the Portland Art Museum as well as an online site, objectstories.org, so that stories can be told and shared both inside the museum and in the communities where storytellers live. Since 2010, the Object Stories concept has essentially evolved into a comprehensive educational platform for engaging audiences and forging community collaborations. The Museum has since extended Object Stories into a multi-year partnership with area middle schools that involves in-depth teacher professional development, artist residencies, and multiple visits to the Portland Art Museum that culminates in students’ own personal “object stories.” Further success has brought the Museum into a new i