The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

Hands-On Humanities: Restore/Restory Develops Community Collaborations

How do you do hands-on humanities? Ask UCIRA Artist jesikah maria ross and her collaborators in the Restory/Restory project. Restore/Restory is a public history project that brings together UC Davis students, faculty, and artists to collaborate with the Cache Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that manages the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. The project is a model for turning histories of conflicts into sites for collaboration.

The preserve has a deep and layered history that reflects the complex past of California. The 130-acre site bordering Cache Creek has been home to Native Americans, farmers and ranchers, gravel miners, and environmental educators. Home of the “Gravel Wars” of Yolo county, the site illustrates the contentious histories of land and water use common to California.

Restore/Restory was launched in January 2011 as a place-based storytelling project sponsored by the Art of Regional Change (ARC) and orchestrated by ARC director jesikah maria ross. The project involves a twelve-person community advisory board made up of diverse stakeholders including tribal leaders, UC faculty and graduate students, youth, farmers, policymakers, and educators. Seventy community members were involved in telling stories and contributing their knowledge and experiences for the public history.

Over one hundred UC Davis students have taken part in the project through five different classes: two in English, two in Technocultural and Cinema Studies, and one in Design. Advisory board member and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jacquelyn Ross shared, “It’s been quite moving to watch the transformation in our UCD students who have worked on the project. I get the sense that this project helped them to slow down time and become intimate with a place in a way that is completely new to them.”

This diverse array of people is co-creating a site-based audio tour and a series of media pieces curated on an interactive public history website. Thanks to a grant from the UC Humanities Research Network (UCHRI), this work will be showcased in a series of “twenty-first century Chautauquas” hosted this fall. jesikah maria ross borrows the term from the rural popular education movement of the late 1800s that centered on discussion of art, culture, and contemporary issues. ross believes that Restore/Restory invites the public to think about “big humanities questions around culture, justice, truth, diverse perspectives, beauty. It’s allowing us to take these questions and anchor them physically to a piece of land, and…have people dialogue about it.”

Two of these Chautauquas will take place in late October on site at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. These events will debut the website and audio tours and will bring the public in direct contact with the storytellers on the land. For example, nature and culture walks will lead guests through the preserve as they hear the history of specific sites from different perspectives. A tour of the gravel bars might pair a geologist and a lifelong miner to share their differing expertise on the gravel in the creek. Another group may hear a tribal member talking about the tending and gathering gardens inside the preserve alongside an ecologist talking about the ecological habitat.

Jacquelyn Ross believes that “the human touch of hearing contributors’ reactions and revelations connects the everyday folks in a way that textbooks usually do not…I think these [stories] will make more people want to visit the area.”

Throughout the project, jesikah maria ross has emphasized the importance of collaboration and face-to-face interaction. “Transformation happens on the ground when people are developing relationships to one another,” said ross. “While it’s important to have these online galleries and distribution sites, you need the on-the ground complement to spark the learning and connections. The UCHRI recognize the importance of supporting engaging communities with the art and scholarship produced in this project.”

The Art of Regional Change is a joint initiative of the UC Davis Humanities Institute and the Center for Regional Change. Watch the DHI website this fall to learn about how you can take part in these upcoming public events.

Restore/Restory is supported, in part, by grants through the UC Institute for Research in the Arts and the Quitalpas Foundation.

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