This summer, through the Power of Stories in Communities program, Santa Fe Opera teaching artists Elizabeth Kunz and Charles Gamble have been teaching children around New Mexico how to tell stories through filmmaking, collaboration and performance.
With online programming, Kunz, who also serves as a second grade bilingual teacher at Susie Reyes Marmon Elementary School in Albuquerque, has taught children in Embudo, El Rito, Española, Los Lunas and Las Cruces to create short films using stop-motion animation.
She will also be leading a workshop in Dulce on Aug. 17 through 21 and another from Aug. 24 to 28 for children around the state, especially in rural and tribal communities, for which people can sign up through their local libraries.
“I want to raise student voices, because they’re consuming digital content, they’re watching stuff, they’re seeing ads, they’re constantly taking in digital media, so I wanted them to be a part of creating digital media,” she said.
Gamble, who also teaches in the theater department at the New Mexico School for the Arts, has taught children in Chama in person to act out stories and teenagers in Embudo online to write their own collaborative story, with each participant coming up with a piece of the narrative that plays off the other pieces.
In Chama, the masked participants had the opportunity to creatively interact with others they did not know, which lent extra enthusiasm to Gamble’s activities.
“They seemed really energized just to be having playful contact with other kids,” he said.
The virtual format poses various obstacles to reaching that same level of energy and facilitating an environment of connection for collaboration, he said.
“I wanted to see if there was a way to leap those and get to the good stuff of just creating collaboratively, cooperatively,” Gamble said.
There was, it seems, indeed a way–through a discussion on Zoom, teenagers in Embudo came up with a story called “The Last Emotional Robot,” brainstorming together a fragile robotic world and a hero faced with the challenge of rescuing it.
Embudo Valley Library Executive Director Felicity Fonseca said the participants managed to build trust among each other quickly despite the online format.
“It was definitely a pretty personal experience I think in a lot of ways for them to do that writing work together,” she said. “It is possible to build a community online or virtually and create that context.”
Another obstacle online programming poses is one of equity–not all children have access to a device or to the internet, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to participate, Kunz said.
“If a kid in NM doesn’t want to sign up, I just don’t want it to be because they don’t have a device or wifi,” she wrote in a Monday email. “Let’s talk about equity and resource allocation for New Mexican children. Rural and tribal New Mexicans are a top priority here.”
She described silver linings around the changes brought about by the pandemic–she has watched children in families turn to each other for collaboration and create family film crews; and later in August, she plans to host a session open to rural communities throughout the state, so kids in Embudo will be able to collaborate with kids in Las Cruces with kids in Dulce, whom they might otherwise never have met.
This summer is the third year of the Power of Stories in Communities program, which was born out of a partnership between the Santa Fe Opera, the New Mexico State Library and the Embudo Valley Library and is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and the New Mexico Library Foundation.