Last year, the San Francisco Museum of the Africa Diaspora received a multi-year grant from the James Irvine Foundation for a two-year storytelling project, compelling us to hypothesize that storytelling may be the next big funding opportunity for museums.
It also made us wonder what took so long. As we noted, museums, in a sense, are repositories of stories, and the art form itself is incredibly democratizing. You don't need to be a Picasso to tell a story that engages other members of the community. And while museums seem uniquely attuned to the promise of storytelling, there's another field that's even more conducive to the craft. Of course, we're talking about journalism.
For corroborating evidence, we turn to Rensselaerville, New York, where the Carey Institute for Global Good announced $200,000 in new support to its nonfiction residency, one of the country's few residency programs offered exclusively to documentarians, journalists, and nonfiction writers. A $100,000 challenge grant was awarded by the Reva and David Logan Foundation and matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The fund's mission? To advance in-depth journalism and new forms of storytelling.
The funding could not come at a better time.
The world of print media—and media in general—is, of course, in a state of "creative destruction." Readership has dwindled and fragmented across multiple print and electronic outlets, revenue has dipped, and as a result, outlets lack the resources to fund what Knight calls "deeply reported stories." The fund at the Carey Institute frees up recipients to craft compelling work, collaborate with parters, and share content on a variety of platforms. Knight notes that resident fellows cover subjects including the Syrian uprising, the Armenian genocide, the crisis in American public education, women’s rights in Afghanistan, the future of the Great Lakes and other pressing topics with worldwide implications.
The residency is offered to approximately 20 reporters, documentarians and nonfiction writers twice a year. The length of stay ranges from two weeks to three months. Prospective applicants can find details here.
Which brings us back to the role of storytelling in the worlds of museums and journalism. Upon further introspection, we readily admit the analogy isn't particularly strong. After all, not all museums need to embrace storytelling as a medium. Would it be nice? Sure. But museums have other tools in their programming toolbox. Journalism outlets, on the other hand, lack that luxury. They live and die on the strength and depth of their content. Without it, there's no Plan B, further underscoring the importance of creating high-impact journalism without worrying about how many "likes" the photo of Oscar the office cat gets on Facebook.