Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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An old TV show assured us there were 8 million stories in the naked city. Nowadays, there are roughly 207,000 stories in Arlington, and a project is under way to capture a passel and give them eternal life through the miracle of online video.

“Tell Arlington’s Story” was set in motion last January by newly sworn-in County Board chairman Chris Zimmerman. The idea was attached to familiar goals of forging a shared Arlington identity, embracing collective understanding of our rich diversity, improving civic engagement, etc.

But there was a more surprising benefit. As Zimmerman explained last week at a demonstration for Arlington’s Committee of 100, no Arlingtonian-not even elected officials who give their spare time over to unearthly quantities of gladhanding-can presume to “see the whole picture.”

So he joined with board colleague Walter Tejada and Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz to mobilize staff and volunteers to lure Arlingtonians of all walks to overcome any stage fright and hold forth for the camera on their lives, memories and perceptions.

Few would call the project essential. But it costs virtually nothing, I was assured by coordinator Dulce Carrillo, the multicultural outreach and advocacy manager of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, “Running an efficient government is not just about taxes and regulations,” she said.

As the African proverb says, it takes a village to videotape a village. Tell Arlington’s Story builds on existing work such as a documentary project on Columbia Pike and the Arlington Spellbinders, who preserve the ancient art of story-telling. Add some video technicians and teachers from Gunston Middle School, Arlington Central Library, REEP (English classes for adults), Arlington Independent Media and the George Mason University folklore department. Garnish with support from the Committee of 100 and the American Association of University Women, and you approach the veritable cast of thousands.

Some stories come in audio or written form, but video is winning out in our age of perpetual Internet evolution.

The results, some 150 stories and counting, are viewable accompanied by bouncy music and graphics at www.Arlingtonstory.us. There’s also a display of Tell Arlington’s Story this month at Central Library and a celebration Jan. 20 at the Artisphere.

Some entries are personal self-profiles, others are narrower anecdotes.

You can see School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez recall her four-decades-plus as a Bolivian immigrant finding a slice of her home culture in Arlington. You can see county Revenue Commissioner Ingrid Morroy discuss her rise as the nation’s first (only?) Surinamese elected official. You can see retired H-B Woodlawn math teacher Jim Schroeder – testifying from “Hippie High’s 40th anniversary reunion this October–tell of a straying student’s struggle to penetrate the adage of French philosopher Rene Descartes.

Though egalitarian in spirit, the effort includes some quality control. At last week’s demonstration, banqueters were coached by Gunston drama teacher Caitlin Chapuis on how to craft stories with a beginning, middle and end. We built off of tablemates’ offerings, and a dozen or so (including yours truly) opened up on camera.

A skeptic might ask whether observers looking back centuries from now– wading through our era’s firehose of digital dross-will find the portraits of Arlingtonians any different from those of the august citizens of Falls Church, Fairfax, or, dare I mention them, D.C. and Maryland?

It’s all in the telling of the tale.

 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]