Oral History Provides Basis for Community Art Project

By Joanna Hay, Joanna Hay Productions

The Frankfort (Kentucky) Public Art Project is an example of arts meets history meets tourism meets community engagement meets education. It keeps growing and evolving as the community develops new tourism and educational initiatives connected to the arts.

The project includes a website and cell phone tour. Oral history interviews were a fundamental part in putting together its pieces.

My collaborator, Judy Sizemore, and I did not do this alone. The local community provided help in the form of monetary support and leg work.

Kentucky State University (KSU) professor Shannon Brogan let us and Sarah Milligan, former oral history administrator for the Kentucky Oral History Commission, train her speech/communications students in oral history interviewing techniques. Then we took them out into the community to interview and record 40 artists, curators and historians about 20 works of public art.  

From their groundwork, we created the Frankfort Public Art Tour – a website and cellphone tour that takes people to 20 public art sites. Excerpts from the oral history interviews became part of the interpretation for each of the stops on the tour. The students became the tour guides on the website and on the cell phone tour recordings.

On the website are two slide shows for each tour stop. The top slideshow depicts the artwork and the site itself; the second slide show depicts the process of collecting the interviews and working with the students. KSU computer science students built the website, and student interns and Kings Center children shot the photos of each stop.

The website includes activities for school children, visitors and residents. People can take the tour by foot and/or by car.

In the project’s second year, we added additional themed tours and educational activities to the website (check the Activities tab). We track the project’s reach through Google Analytics and cellphone tour usage data. One lesson we have learned is not to neglect planning for ongoing website maintenance – all websites need to be maintained and updated regularly!

The Franklin Public Art Project continues to grow, and its impact on the community is ongoing. For instance:

  • The gifted and talented director at Franklin County Schools found the site, contacted us, and now the schools are using it and other local resources for their gifted and talented curriculum.
  • The student intern program between KSU and Joanna Hay Productions continues each semester.
     
  • The Frankfort Public Art tour is being used as a foundation for a new community-wide initiative called Arts2O. This is a plan for six new public art installations along the river in Frankfort that can be toured from a boat or from the shore starting in 2017.
  • This project also has led to the founding of the Franklin County Arts Council, created to foster the arts and develop a strategic plan for the arts for the county.

We’ve also had outside commendation for the project. In 2013, it received the Nonprint Format Award for Oral History from the Oral History Association.

Funding for this project came from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Oral History Commission (all of the interviews are archived at the Kentucky Historical Society), Kentucky State University, Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist Commission, City of Frankfort, Liberty Hall Historic Site, Downtown Frankfort Inc. and many other fine local organizations. I am proud that it merited federal, state and local funding.

We would love for you to take it. You can visit our website or call the Frankfort Public Art cell phone tour at (502) 554-9356 to hear narrations about each of the tour stops.

(Editor’s Note: The Kentucky Oral History Commission is commemorating its 40th anniversary this year. The only commission of its kind in the United States dedicated to providing financial and technical assistance to oral history repositories and oral historians, KOHC has positioned Kentucky historical organizations, libraries and archives to lead the way in collecting and preserving oral histories, like those for the Frankfort Public Art Tour. The Kentucky Historical Society administers and houses KOHC.

Joanna Hay is director and producer at Joanna Hay Productions, a Frankfort-based company that produces oral history, documentary films, video, exhibits and graphic design. She developed these documentaries from oral history projects: “Kentucky Bourbon Tales: Distilling the Family Business”; “A Kentucky Treasure: The Center for All”; “Quest for the Perfect Bourbon”; and “On the Front Line for Freedom, Justice & Peace.”)