City of Stories: A community book art project

City of Stories is a community book art project that makes voices visible. When displayed, the books created will visually celebrate what unites us as well as what distinguishes us from one another. 
Many people who come to Studio Pause, hear first-hand stories they might not hear anywhere else —stories of family, immigration, education rights, childhood, language equality, incarceration, etc. Beautifully simple and easily replicable, in this project Sushmita creates art from stories, teaches Arlington Public School’s extended day staff to do the same, and take it to the children they work with.

The project has continued in various ways. In fall 2019 Sushmita created City of Stories: Voices of Children, a collaboration with a local organization, BU-GATA, which works for community stability and youth leadership development in the Buckingham neighborhood where the Studio is located. In early 2020 another version, City of Stories: My Iran was created in collaboration with an exhibit, My Iran: Six Women Photographers, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art

The Project:

Phase 1:
Collect 10 real-life stories of childhood from the studio community.
Create art inspired by each story using various media to make each storyteller’s voice visible.
– Create StoryPages combining the story’s text and art. Each of Sushmita’s signature StoryPages can be folded into a 3D house-shaped book, her most popular book art workshop.
Folded books will have space for others to add their own stories to, inspired by the StoryPage they picked to work with.

Phase 2:
Empower Arlington Out of School Time Staff to share their stories, which might go untold, and create their own Story Pages. Easy yet fun ways of learning stories through people, visuals, text, and construction of a 3D book object, allows different learners to join in and find success in art-making.
Train the staff on how to use the StoryPages to inspire students to share their own. This will create three different story collections: stories of studio community, OST staff, and students. Having taught many bookmaking workshops at extended day programs in the metro area, now I can teach the staff that already has a relationship with the children to do the project, letting their art and stories build understanding of their larger community.

Phase 3:
Display the books in innovative ways creating a City of Stories that visually celebrates what unites us as well as what distinguishes us from one another. Guests can read them, walk through them, and make their own books at the community bookmaking receptions and add them to the City of Stories. There will also be videos to learn more about the community storytellers. Displaying, and viewing the books as a collective City of Stories will make visible our individual and local identities.

Check out the film! 

The Community: This project is a collaboration between the artist and Michael Swisher, who is the Chair of the Out of School Time  Council’s Professional Development Committee (OSTPD). The OSTPD develops, delivers, and coordinates training opportunities for staff who work with young people during after-school, evening, and weekend hours. The focus of professional development is on ensuring staff are able to provide a safe and supportive environment in their programs, engage positively with young people, and offer quality program activities to youth participants that allows them to express themselves.

“The City Of Stories project is important to the OST community because it provides a unique and creative way for young people to share their stories. Even better, it raises the profile and value of many of the staff who come from different cultural backgrounds and for whom English is a second (or third!) language. By deliberately engaging these staff the project allows them an opportunity to share their personal stories and cultures with children and families of Arlington Public Schools, as well as their peers.” ~ Michael.

Photo above: Sushmita has taught 3 workshops for OST at their conference in Nov 2017 and saw how they enjoyed her “I Shine” bookmaking workshop. This led to the idea of the collaboration for the grant project. 

Sun, Apr 14, 2019, 4-6 pm:
City of Stories show reception and community bookmaking, Center Gallery, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, 4444 Arlington Blvd, Arlington VA
(Left: Photos from reception)

Thu, May 30, 6:30-8:30 pm: City of Stories pop-up show reception and community bookmaking, Rinker Community Center, 4108 4th St N, Arlington VA 22203. Here the display will include the stories shared by APS students as well!

Wed, June 12, 6-9 pm:
City of Stories pop-up show reception and community bookmaking, Kenmore Middle School, Arlington VA. here the display will include all the storybooks made by APS students.

Summer-Fall 2019: City of Stories, Ellen M. Bozman Government Center Lobby, 2100 Clarendon Blvd. Arlington, VA 22201.




City of Stories is Sushmita Mazumdar’s 2018 Arlington Individual Artist’s Grant project. This program is supported in part by Arlington County through the Arlington Cultural Affairs division of Arlington Economic Development and the Arlington Commission for the Arts.


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