Stories from Putney! Reflections from Outreach Instructor & Photographer Evie Lovett

This autumn marks the second collaboration between the Vermont Folklife Center and Leah
Toffolon’s eighth grade Social Studies class at the Putney Central School.  Last year, we planned
a four-day-a-week, ten-week program for her students focusing on the theme of sustainability.  
The project began with an introduction to ethnography, interviewing techniques, and
instruction on the use of VFC Tascam digital recorders, all leading to a Vox Pop exercise in
downtown Putney in which students asked passers-by: “What is one thing you would change
about Putney?”  Working in groups of three, students edited the responses and created 30-
minute audio pieces.  Not only did they learn valuable lessons about the concerns of their own
community, they confronted their fears about approaching strangers and they had the
opportunity to reflect on how news is generally directed to the public from media sources
rather than crafted from the interests and concerns of the public.  With this exercise, they
turned the process on its head and acted as agents in communicating the “voice of the people” 
(vox populi).

Students then moved on to the culminating project, creation of a three-minute video based on
interviews they conducted with people in the Putney community engaged in work connected to
the broader theme of sustainability.  For this exercise, students had a session on photography 
and viewed examples of audio slideshows which integrated audio and still photos.  The process
of deciding who each student would interview was a collaborative one, with students offering
suggestions of individuals and areas of interest.  We planned two opportunities for students to
meet their community partners, once at school for an interview only; and once at the person’s
place of work, at which time students took photographs and made additional audio recordings if
needed.

Thanks to the generosity of an exciting new performance space in the town of Putney, Next
Stage Arts
, the students had the opportunity to showcase their videos on a large screen for the
community, an event attended by one hundred community members.  Students participated in a
Q&A session after the screening. Our state representative Mike Mrowicki described the event: 
“It was an evening when everyone felt a touch of inspiration.  The older generation marveled
at how these kids had wedded curiosity, technical acumen and community outreach to produce
something that was informative and new, even to those of us who have lived in Putney since
before these students were born.  The students felt the interest and appreciation of us in the
audience and realized their power to contribute to the good of the community.”

This fall’s project – Putney Stories -- is a collaboration with the Putney Historical Society, who
shared a list of community elders whose stories they wanted to have recorded and archived.  
Students were paired with community members by interest and connection (one student
interviewed her great-grandmother, another his grandfather, who described his family member
George Aiken’s last campaign costing him $13.78!). One student spoke of the project: “I could
have taken this project in any number of ways. I like the fact that I had to use my own
judgment about what path to take and make a project that was based on my own
decisions—that there was no 'right answer', just my judgment.” This year, students worked
with cloud-based editing programs, the free program Soundtrap, and WeVideo for Educators, 
which was purchased by Putney Central School.

The students' “Putney Stories” will be shared with the community on Thursday, Dec. 16, 7:30
pm, at Next Stage Arts Project in Putney.  All are invited.  Contact Evie Lovett for further
information: evielovett@gmail.com, 802-258-1574.

Fall 2014 Vox Pop pieces

Fall 2014 Sustainability Videos