The Danville Storytelling Festival (DSF) is celebrating 21 years of spreading the words from local and regional storytellers. The festival grew from a vision of Dr. Fred Motley. Originally, it started as a one-day event to celebrate Black History Month. “I wanted to preserve and incorporate the city’s African American presence and contributions into the Danville narrative,” Fred said. He reached out to some storytelling friends to “weave people, places, and times together, creating an artistic tapestry that reflected the city’s history.”
The experience was a success and had participants and attendees asking when the next event would take place. “The next year, I expanded to include storytellers from across the region and storytellers from the city,” Fred said. After another strong event, Fred began thinking about the next chapter. “It was while planning the third year that I realized it could become a festival. When I shared the idea with Lynn Bjarnesen, then executive director of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, she asked if I would host the festival at the museum.”
The festival tells the narrative of the Danville community and neighboring areas. Fred continued, “The Danville Storytelling Festival is a family-oriented event that acts as an ‘Artistic Social Bridge’—bringing communities together and celebrating how we are all connected using the rich tradition of storytelling, performances, and activism.” Stories exist in every genre and walk of life, and there are lessons to be learned from them. “The festival is a lively day of intergenerational and diverse stories from all cultures told through music, dance and spoken words. Attendees get to experience them,” Fred added.
The longevity of DSF is an incredible feat. Fred attributed it to “the joy, laughter, education, entertainment, and the camaraderie among those gathered to listen and learn.” Fred’s daughter, Dr. Monica Motley, Executive Director of DSF, added, “It’s also a genuine way in which we connect, even through our differences. Last year, we hosted the festival virtually and one of our questions to engage the audience was to name the best storyteller in their life and why. It was amazing to see over forty people immediately, in the chat, name family members and friends. The common denominator–it was the way the person told the story. Whether it was a tall-tale or personal memory, the best storytellers draw you into their world in a way that doesn’t leave you.” Fred summed it up, “Storytelling keeps life history alive.”
DSR rooted over twenty years ago, and now it’s branched out into a flourishing forest of inspiring tales. For Fred, it’s about having stories of the past, present, and future that need to be told. “Our lives should never feel desolated. We strive to have everyone leave with ‘Food for Thought,’” Fred said. Monica added, “Studies also show how healing and connective storytelling can be. All too often folks from minoritized backgrounds, especially, don’t get the opportunity to see themselves or tell their stories in a way that’s true to them. The festival proudly continues the millennia old tradition of storytelling, which brings communities together and keeps ‘unwritten’ stories alive by passing them from generation to generation.”
Community plays an important role in DSF’s staying power. “To date, we are one of a handful of ‘storytelling festivals’ in the state. We are the only storytelling festival in Southern Virginia,” Fred said. Word has traveled within the creative community. Fred continued, “DSF is a way to celebrate the brilliant artistry regionally.” People have traveled from artistic strongholds such as Durham, Richmond, and Washington D.C. to enjoy our local stories. “We also continue our commitment to host the festival in partnership with grassroot groups, regional artisans, local businesses, and civic organizations within the Dan River Region,” Fred added.
Griot is a name given to traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who continue a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa. Monica said, “The festival welcomes storytelling performers or ‘griots’ to share their art and connect performance with history, tradition, and activism.” DSF begins with an opening celebration and then moves into the performances. “The festival closes with a longstanding tradition of recognizing community members who have used their personal passions and stories to enact community change,” Monica added.
The Danville Storytelling Festival will take place on February 11, 2023 from 10am to 2pm at the Ballou Park Nature Center. DSF is free for the public. To continue the commitment to making the festival more accessible, people can also enjoy the festival via the “virtual experience” where pre-recorded performances also include ASL & Spanish Language interpretation.
Learn more about DSF at https://danvillestorytelling.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.