SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - Catawba College has become the third site in Rowan County to receive a “Here’s My Story” audio embedded sculptural bench. The installation was completed Monday, April 12, in front of the Corriher-Linn-Black Library by Cricket Forge of Durham, the fabricator.
“Here’s My Story” is an inclusive public art initiative dedicated to sharing the stories and histories of Rowan County citizens who have been historically marginalized. It is funded with a $50,000 grant to the Department of Art & Design at Rowan Cabarrus Community College by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The goal of “Here’s My Story” is to highlight ways in which diversity makes Rowan County stronger and more resilient.
Dr. David Nelson, President of Catawba, said, “I’m so pleased we’re able to locate the ‘Here’s My Story’ bench at Catawba College. We’re grateful to our friends at RCCC who helped make possible this effort to make the significance of equity and inclusion so accessible and so personal to those who walk the grounds of our campus.”
RCCC is one of only 10 organizations in the state to receive the funding, and the only community college to receive it. Other audio embedded benches have been installed at two other Salisbury locations — RCCC’s North Campus and at Dixonville Cemetery.
With the third installation, the three benches are now operational; however, because of COVID-19 restrictions at Catawba and RCCC, the public is encouraged to utilize the Dixonville Cemetery bench until an official unveiling is scheduled at a later date.
The benches feature a unique S-curve design with seating available on both sides. When a person sits at a “Here’s My Story” bench, they will hear the recorded stories through speakers embedded in the curves of the bench. This provides an intimate listening experience that allows for quiet contemplation.
The project has a focus on accessibility with the shape of the bench allowing for wheelchair access. QR codes located on the side panel of each bench connect listeners with hearing impairment or language barriers to access the stories via YouTube where closed captioning is available. The QR code also links listeners to the “Here’s My Story” website where they can learn more about the project and access transcripts of the recordings. These are available in multiple languages. Those transcripts will also be archived and available at the Rowan Public Library.
For the past two years, RCCC’s Art & Design Department has been recording stories of members of the community who consider themselves and their voices to be underrepresented in public art. Once recorded, the stories go before a diverse Advisory Committee which selects the stories that are shared with the public.
Each individual story is approximately 10 minutes in length, and each bench plays around one hour of stories on a loop. After the last story plays, the loop starts back at the beginning. The loop plays continuously throughout the day, and all three benches play the same stories simultaneously. A person sitting on a bench a RCCC could have a shared experience with someone sitting on a bench at Catawba.
The stories will rotate periodically and new stories will be added.
Jenn Selby, Chair, Art & Design Department and Executive Director of Transfer & University Partnerships at RCCC, said, “The ‘Here’s My Story’ project has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life. The work that is required to bring about equity, justice, and a more compassionate world can seem so daunting and huge, when really it all relies on us listening to each other, on building relationships with our neighbors, and on respecting stories that are different than our own. This project deliberately focused on listening (and to those with hearing differences, on reading) so that the audience can focus on the message, not on the speaker’s appearance. I am grateful for the brave support of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, for the visionary leadership at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, and for the trust that so many storytellers put into this project and into the people who will hear these stories.”
Following the Catawba installation, one of the young storytellers, Brooklynne Witherspoon, visited the bench with her family as part of her birthday celebration. Brooklynne is the founder of “A Bridge for Kids,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting marginalized youth in the area and providing them with access to healthy foods and opportunities to become more active in the community. She was delighted to see that her quote is etched into the side of the bench that sits in front of the prestigious Catawba College Library, according to Bailey Wingler, Grant Project Assistant, Art & Design, RCCC. Brooklynn’s quote: “My favorite saying is, ‘Live life to express, not to impress. Live life for a cause, not for applause.’”
Community members who would like to share their own stories can email email@example.com or contact the RCCC Art & Design Department. The storytellers can remain anonymous, if they prefer. While the grant funded three benches, more benches are available for purchase. Interested parties should contact the RCCC Art & Design Department Chair Jenn Selby at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 704.798.5241.