Story Tapestries is a 501(c) non-profit located in Montgomery County, Maryland. Seeking to strengthen communities through the arts, they promote sustainable, integrated arts-based programs that provide an avenue for education and foster engagement with students of all ages and abilities. With a special focus on high-need communities, Story Tapestries is empowering, educating, and engaging their way to a better future.
As the organization charges headfirst into 2019, I had the honor of sitting down with Lorienne Beals, Story Tapestries’ Development Director, to briefly discuss her experiences and give us a glimpse into the past and future of ST’s programs and goals.
E: Hi, Lorienne, it’s so good to get this chance to sit down and talk with you. As the Development Director for Story Tapestries, you’ve got some great perspectives to offer on the the organization and its impact. To start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from, and how did you end up working with Arianna (ST’s Founder) and Story Tapestries?
L: I grew up in Seneca Falls, NY – the birthplace of Women’s Rights. In the fall of 2010 I moved to Severn, Maryland and met Arianna. She had just finished filing the application paperwork for Story Tapestries to become a 501c3. As a professional dancer and dance educator, the work of Story Tapestries immediately resonated with me. In addition, I had worked for years with the New York Institute of Dance and Education and the Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre before making the move to the greater DC area, and I was excited to find an organization that shared many of the same principles about helping people reach their fullest potential.
E: It sounds like you were already deeply invested in the arts and their place in education. What is it about Story Tapestries that drew/draws you in? Was there a specific aspect that caught your interest at first?
L: What I love about Story Tapestries is the collaborative approach to helping others come to recognize and celebrate their own abilities. We really use the arts as the vehicle to help people connect with one another, breaking down traditional barriers and unlocking the door to learning for thousands of students. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching a student transform from being resistant, feeling isolated and angry, to realizing they not only can but want to participate and engage and share. What’s even more powerful is watching a teacher who wants nothing more than to reach and assist their students finally feel like they’ve found new ways that really work for them to get their message across. The beauty of that is the teacher will then utilize these methods in every class they teach, reaching hundreds and even thousands of children in the course of their career. And normally, they’re so excited about it that they share these concepts and techniques with their colleagues, too.
E: That’s very powerful – the impact goes way beyond one or two lessons and can have huge implications over time. These goals have a big “ripple effect,” it sounds like. There have been some truly groundbreaking programs headed by ST in the past few years, would you tell me a bit about your favorites?
L: I’m incredibly excited about the Amplify US! Initiative and the potential it has to be a catalyst for meaningful social change. We began working with partners in 2017 to meet about the issue of rising hate crimes in Montgomery County and to brainstorm about how arts programs might play a role in shifting those dynamics at the root of the problem. The task force that came together created a program design that piloted in 2018 with a series of free storytelling workshops provided for youth and adults across the county. Workshop participants were then given opportunities to share their stories in public performances at public libraries, the Strathmore Mansion, and Wheaton Arts Parade and Festival – sharing the stage with professional artists. The stories that have been told and the experiences shared have been beautiful, powerful, and heartfelt, and those who have participated thus far have acknowledged a shift in their perceptions, which is the core goal of these programs. This design is a model we are working to replicate on a larger scale in Montgomery County as well as bring to additional locations such as Prince George’s County and beyond. While our in-school, after-school, and summer programs as well as professional development workshops are impacting academic performance, we know youth are most successful when they have a strong community supporting them, including mentors, caretakers and beyond. Therefore I feel the Amplify US! Initiative helps us really take a 360-degree approach to serving today’s youth and ensuring a more colorful, fun, and unbiased tomorrow.
E: That’s amazing. Performance has a way of really bringing people out of themselves and into a more connected mode of expression, and it’s so wonderful that Story Tapestries is tapping into that and turning it into a vibrant experience for the people in our county. Where do you see ST hitting the hardest in the next few years? Where are programs like this needed the most in the USA?
L: Our focus will remain equally strong on providing low- to no-cost programs that directly serve youth and the adults who interact with young people every day, while developing programs that are involving full communities. Any organization, city, town, or region that is struggling with issues of limited access to arts and education opportunities or with situations of diversity where differences are seen as barriers, are places where Story Tapestries can make an impact.
E: You’re really creating systemic change here in Montgomery County and other local counties in Maryland – your replicable models have been used as far south as North Carolina. It would be great to see these programs take flight and find their way into communities all over the USA. Thank you so much for sharing your time and insight with us, Lorienne.
For anyone who would like to be apart of this amazing organization and its wonderful, vital mission, please check out their website and consider making a donation. They provide some great resources for educators, and they have a beautiful blog full of great information and engaging stories. Until next time, everyone!
Emily Sinclair Montague, guest author