Project Showcase: Kin/Folk/Lore

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Kin/Folk/Lore (KFL) is a community-led history project that uses grassroots storytelling to incite meaningful dialogues across cultures, generations, and localities in Philadelphia. Participant-audiences forge unlikely connections while considering changing landscapes, core values, and hopes that define their lives—past and present. KFL’s collection exists as a free, publicly accessible digital oral history database, exhibit, and album series.

Photo of fourteen adults and youth standing, posing, and smiling surrounded by a blue flower border.

Kin/Folk/Lore staff, partners, and participants at an end-of-the-year celebration in 2022. Photo credit: COSACOSA art at large, Inc.

KFL was developed by local nonprofit COSACOSA art at large, Inc. and funded by PA Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. For over thirty years, COSACOSA has created public art and humanities programs by/for/about marginalized communities in direct, long-term collaboration with Philadelphia residents. Our work is community-facilitated, from inception to production. Through our partnerships with neighborhood coalitions, healthcare centers, and schools, we disseminated a call for KFL contributors in 2022, and the response was overwhelming. Over the course of that year, we gathered over 600 responses from 30+ neighborhoods for Volume 1: Community.

KFL’s process of interviewing, story swapping, and reading is inspired by Anna Deavere Smith’s docu-play Fires in the Mirror—a series of monologues based on interview transcripts with different people in the aftermath of the 1991 Crown Heights riot. For Phase One, folks self-interview, using a series of short prompts to tell their own stories—resulting in an online exhibition and story database. For Phase Two, participants read and record each other’s stories anonymously—resulting in a series of oral history albums with tracks such as My community is . . .  and When I look at my community, I see . . . . For Phase Three, we host pop-up events to meet, dialogue, reflect, and celebrate. Everyone is compensated for their contributions.

KFL uses personal storytelling to highlight history-making on a grassroots level—outside of academia, museums, and repositories. In Volume 1, a mosaic of everyday stories emerges against the backdrop of Philadelphia’s ongoing issues of gentrification and so-called urban renewal. Each prompt inspired divergent responses. To name a few:

  • When I look at my community I see . . . hope, poverty, violence, lack of leadership, new developers that don’t consider older residents, families working hard, resilience, non-normative survivors, nobody helping each other, unity, drastic change . . .
  • What my community needs the most is . . . affordable housing, political power, youth programs, a big clean-up, a fresh food market, resources, stability, lower prices, laundromats, help getting people off the street, a librarian at each school, input in land use, living wages . . .
  • When I look at the future I see . . . hope, fear, a better life, loss of business, green spaces, barriers, unpredictability, possibility, uncertainty, more opportunities, possible confrontations . . .

In the coming years, participants will lead a series of interpretation-through-dialogue events, sharing their impressions on the shared values and conflicting experiences that comprise KFL. Their reflections will yield crowdsourced exhibit didactics and, eventually, a community-authored anthology

40 colorful avatars of people, with text blurbs below each.

Screenshot of Kin/Folk/Lore oral history database, searchable by name, location, age, and theme. Image credit: COSACOSA art at large, Inc.

KFL functions as a participatory archive—demonstrating each person’s story matters and that we each have the power to tell ours while amplifying others. KFL is more than the sum of its parts, and it will continue to grow—empowering residents across the city through creative, thought-provoking conversations, drawn from our everyday lived experiences.

~ GVGK Tang is a public historian and community organizer with a background in digital humanities and media studies. Tang serves as lead organizer of Kin/Folk/Lore. Connect on Twitter @gvgktang.

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