EDUCATOR'S GUIDE: INDIVISIBLE - Background and Resources


Components: Indivisible is a major national documentary exploration of community life and grass-roots democracy in twelve locations throughout the United States. Its components include: a touring museum exhibition: Indivisible: Stories of American Community, an Educator's Guide to the museum exhibition, a web site:, a book, and an audio compact disc Local Heroes Changing America: Indivisible, postcard exhibitions, and the creation of archives. This endeavor is a documentary commission funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and co-directed by Tom Rankin, Executive Director of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and Trudy Wilner Stack, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona. Rankin and Wilner Stack were principally responsible for selecting the project's sites, photographers, and interviewers, as well as the images and narratives.


Alternatives member Steven E. Valloney and Charlotte Rosen at the Sunrise Yoga Center, which Valloney owns
Gelatin silver print
© Bill Burke 1999


Choosing Community Sites: Indivisible examines twelve distinct American places and what it means in each locale to live responsibly and actively in one's own community. Tom Rankin writes in his introduction to Local Heroes Changing America that the task was not to locate the "best" examples of local democracy in action, but rather to assemble a group of geographically diverse places where people are joining together to shape the future at the local level. We consciously looked for communities in different parts of the country, hoping to reflect regional differences. We looked for communities where activism is rooted in citizen initiatives, rather than in cases where the impetus is institutionally driven or comes from the "top down." We looked for racial, ethnic, and gender diversity; for class differences; for youth communities; and for communities dealing with a range of issues such as housing, health, labor, and the environment.

Commissioning Documentarians: Just as the communities of Indivisible were chosen to represent a diverse cross-section of America, so too were the accomplished photographers and documentary fieldworkers who participated. They received guidance in understanding the scope and ideas of the project, but were encouraged to follow their personal visions and documentary interests to develop their own points of view on the stories that they found. Well over a thousand photographs were initially generated and edited through a series of selection processes that provided nearly two hundred images for the museum exhibition. Hundreds of hours of recorded interviews were taped, logged, transcribed, edited, and distilled into the excerpts presented on the audio compact disc and the gallery Acoustiguide.

AJuly 4, 1999, Madison County Courthouse, Marshall
Gelatin silver print
© Debbie Fleming Caffery 1999

Photographers and Images: The project commissioned twelve of the nation's most distinctive photographers, chosen for the particular vision and experience they would contribute. Variety within their backgrounds, age, gender, geographic base, interests, and artistic intentions sets the scene for diverse interpretations of Indivisible community sites. The twelve artists work as fine art photographers, and some have photojournalistic, editorial, and commercial experience. Most have created work that has been exhibited in museums and appeared in books as well as for specific commissions during their careers. Assigned to interpret and document a specific community, each photographer visited his/her site for up to thirty days. Some made more than one visit. A few worked independently of the oral historians assigned to collect first-person narratives, while others discussed their projects or collaborated with interviewers. Their results yielded a range of images reflecting diverse artistic, cultural, journalistic, and documentary intentions. Methods for discussing and interpreting Indivisible photographs are provided within this guide. The selection of photographs may vary from one Indivisible component to another. For instance, some exhibition photographs do not appear in the postcard collection or in the book. This guide may contain images that do not appear in the exhibition.

Interviewers and Narratives: Ten leading documentary interviewers and oral historians were commissioned to collect first-person narratives. Fieldworkers included folklorists, journalists, radio producers, and anthropologists. They were selected for their range of experiences interviewing in the field, their skill in making broadcast-quality recordings, and their familiarity with topics and issues reflected in the respective communities. Interviewers spent at least two weeks in their assigned communities, meeting the citizens who lived there and recording their stories. They responded to their projects in a personal way and developed interview questions to reveal the richness and complexity of respective locations, residents, and issues. Their work yielded hundreds of hours of first-person narratives, which were carefully transcribed and edited to provide the stories, interpretations, descriptions, recollections, songs, and testimonials seen in the book and heard in the audio portraits. Methods for examining personal narratives are provided within this guide. An audio compact disc is included with this educator's guide and with the book Local Heroes Changing America: Indivisible. Acoustiguides are also available for museum visitors and are considered integral to the gallery experience. Educational ResourcesThe following Indivisible components are available as resources for examining documentary expression and community involvement. Through nearly 200 photographs ranging in format, size, and process, from black-and-white images to vibrant color prints to photo-montages, the museum exhibition explores diverse communities-rural, urban, and regional. Issues examined include housing, immigration, the environment, crime prevention, healthcare, youth empowerment, race relations, and economic and cultural development. Students can hear an audio portrait from each site featuring the voices of citizens who are working to preserve or change their communities, as well as those who have benefited from grass-roots efforts.

Museum Exhibition: This educator's guide accompanies the museum exhibition. It includes: a profile of each project site; "how-to" guides for documenting local communities; a selection of slides of exhibition photographs; a set of sixty postcard images; an audio compact disc containing excerpts of project interviews; and lessons for analyzing the form and content of Indivisible photographs and audio portraits.

Web Site: includes photographs, interviews, short video clips, resource guides and links, educators' materials, a bibliography, and suggestions for how visitors can participate in civic life and document their own community's efforts.

Book and CD: Local Heroes Changing America: Indivisible is available in participating museum stores and bookstores. A foreword by Ray Suarez, former host of National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation," and currently senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS, challenges readers to apply a new perspective on communities, especially those we so often dismiss as disadvantaged or powerless. The book contains images and texts from the project and an audio compact disc containing excerpts from community interviews.

Postcard Exhibitions and Interactive Computer Station: The nationally touring museum exhibition is complemented by two postcard versions shown in public spaces and crossroads such as train stations, libraries, university student unions, and airports nation-wide. Opening in Chicago and traveling to numerous cities, including Albany, Dallas, Denver, Ithaca, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Stony Brook, Tucson, and Washington, D.C., the postcard exhibition is intended to reach a broad audience. These installations feature free postcards and an interactive computer station that allows visitors to record their own stories of community. Some participating museums will also offer this interactive computer station. By the completion of the tour, three million free postcards will have been distributed. Ask your local museum for the postcard exhibition site nearest you. A complete set of sixty postcards is included in this guide.

Educational Programming: Ask your local museum about Indivisible-related programs in your area.
    This page last updated September 24, 2000.

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