My mother has been doing some hardcore genealogy research for years now. There was a trip to Ireland a few years back, last Christmas we were in FDR’s Presidential Library, this Christmas I got a calendar with pictures and stories from my maternal grandfather’s side of family all over it.
But she isn’t alone, with shows like Who Do You Think You Are tracing celebrity genealogy, the increased use of DNA testing for various ends and Ancestry.com’s growing subscription rolls, show that people are increasingly interested in their heritage.
From what I have read, interest in genealogy usually increases as people enter retirement which is what a lot of baby boomers (including my mother) have started doing.
It occurs to me then that it might be meaningful to many communities if arts organizations made an effort to help them tell their stories through performance, exhibitions and participatory activities.
The one type of show that has pretty consistently done well for my theatre are those that resonate with groups that maintain a fairly strong cultural identity. Some of it has been related to ethnicity, but others have crossed ethnic lines and been more about the shared experience of place.
Even if you don’t have the capacity to produce/commission/organize a performance, I think there are plenty of opportunities for involving the community in interactive experiences.
By default, I think of those Nina Simon does at her museum, but something could easily be organized around a big 4th of July picnic where everyone sits around and tells family stories about the immigrant/frontier experience. Those stories can be collected/recorded/interpreted in some way and displayed.
My intuition tells me these activities that might even abet community building during a time where electronic devices are making people a little more insular.