To the Marion Community,

The Marion County Historical Society is launching a new county-wide project to record and share stories and document folk, traditional, and culturally-based heritage arts practices from local residents. The project — the Marion Voices Folklife & Oral History Project — grows out of a Fall 2018 Ohio Humanities-Funded community planning process; and will work with local communities gather to stories and expressive cultural practices exemplifying traditions in life, place, and work from the 1960s to now.

This fall, with joint funding from the Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Humanities Council, the Marion County Historical Society will launch the Marion Voices Bicentennial Folklife + Oral History Project. This “hybrid” public history project will include both folk arts and oral history components; and will seek to amplify the voices, histories, experiences, and creative practices of marginalized and underserved communities in
Marion County, so that their stories will be a vibrant part of Marion County’s 2020 Bicentennial programming — and beyond!

The Marion Voices Folklife Project (funded by the Ohio Arts Council) will launch in December 2019 will a two-week folklife/folk arts survey, conducted by Project Director/Folklorist Jess Lamar Reece Holler. This survey will document the life stories, creative processes, and arts forms of Marion County folk, traditional, and cultural arts practitioners across several heritage genres — from material culture (quilting, textiles, fiber arts, foodways, woodworking, carving) to customary culture (from religious and spiritual practice to labor-lore to holiday traditions to dance) to verbal arts (from Gospel and church-choir performance to rap to spoken word poetry, and everything in-between)!

After two weeks of visiting with amazing Marion County cultural and heritage artists, we’ll build the Marion Voices ‘Culture Keepers’ roster — an interactive online database and archive, showcasing Marion’s heritage and cultural artists. To round out the project, we’ll also provide Diversity & Inclusion Consulting to Marion’s Bicentennial Planning committees, produce a Marion Voices County Folkife Program and Cultural Heritage Tourism Plans, towards future work, and work with select artists to produce a pilot Marion Voices Folklife Event Series in Spring 2020 — in collaboration with community partner organizations and Bicentennial events.

The Marion Voices Oral History Project (funded by Ohio Humanities) will continue ourcommunity oral history planning work from last year, and will produce a full oral history to exhibit cycle from Fall 2019 to Fall 2021, focusing on Black history in Marion County, 1960s-Now. We’ll conduct twenty oral history interviews with Black Marion residents on themes of work, life, tradition, organizing, and sense of place; and then will collaborate with project interviewees and partner organizations to co-curate two pop-up community exhibits, located at sites of significance for Black history in Marion County across 2020-2021.

Each pop-up exhibit will also coincide with one or several community oral history events — which may range from narrative stages on themes in Marion Black experience to oral history “listening parties” to home movie screening events.

Then, our work will culminate, over Summer 2021, in the community-collaborative design and launch of a permanent Marion County exhibit on Black life and experience, 1960s-Now. This exhibit will open in Fall 2021, and will be a permanent part of the exhibit display floor at MCHS’s Heritage Hall.

Taken together, the joint Marion Voices Folklife & Oral History Project specifically seeks to amplify stories of underserved communities and everyday people in Marion County, and to connect MCHS with local history efforts across the county. Because justice depends on advocacy and understanding for historically marginalized people and communities, MCHS is proud to work, through this project, to better connect to and serve Marion’s underserved communities, and to amplify the power of less-heard stories, histories, and cultural arts, for our Bicentennial celebration, and beyond. We anticipate the Marion Voices interviews, photo documentation, archive, and website, will be a lasting and living resource to help grow the cultural arts and catalyze important community conversations for decades to come.

Thank you for being a part of this work.

In gratitude,
Jess Lamar Reece Holler
Project Director
The Marion Voices Folklife + Oral History Project
Marion County Historical Society


Marion Voices is a new county-wide oral history and folklife/folk arts project from the Marion County Historical Society, to capture everyday stories from our recent past and to document expressive cultural traditions that constitute Marion’s cultural heritages. In 2019-2020, we will focus on documenting folklife/traditional/cultural arts from multiple underserved Marion County communities; and we will focus on gathering oral histories from Marion’s Black communities,focused on Black life/culture/experience in Marion County, 1960s-now.

Marion Voices is funded in part through generous grant support from Ohio Arts Council and Ohio Humanities. ** Please note that these grants, however generous, do not meet our full program costs. We need your help in fundraising to meet our grant match requirements; please donate if you are able!!! **


Founded in 1820, Marion County is a diverse and changing North-Central Ohio community standing at the crossroads of post-industrial experience. Rich in traditions of agriculture, but also home to 20th century manufacturing, the story of Marion is, in many ways, the story of Ohio.


Traditional local history models often emphasize history’s business and political elite at the expense of everyday residents. At MCHS, we take the promise of social history & “unheard histories” seriously. We are interested in amplifying the ways that working-class, non-white and rural residents have “made” Marion history since the 1960s; and we are excited to explore these stories with community historians, and share them countywide.

MCHS’s Marion Voices oral history project pilot will focus on Black history & life in Marion County across periences of labor and place/space/environment in Marion County, charting a broad arc from the heyday of industry and the rise of the Civil Rights movement to massive deindustrialization in the 1970s and 1980s. This project grows out of a larger strategic outreach to communities whose vibrant histories and rich experiences of Marion County life have historically not been told by the Marion County Historical Society. The collection of these stories will enable MCHS to interpret, curate, and share history at a collaborative local level rarely achieved and largely ignored by traditional exhibition practices, amplifying efforts by Black culture & heritage organizations already at work in the county. Additionally, this project will enhance placemaking as a means to develop strong community identities for the future and strengthen community ties in an age of fragmenting cultures.

Marion Voices will launch with partnerships with Black/African-American cultural organizations and communities in Marion City. The multidisciplinary project will explore occupational folklife, oral history and the public history of Black spaces and labor through a unique community-collaborative model with a strong emphasis on public oral history events. This process of inviting a broader spectrum of the Marion County community to participate (by sharing stories and identifying themes) will allow exploration of diverse histories of our county’s 20th century industrial and post-industrial heritages. More importantly, Marion Voices, as a community-centered comparative project, will encourage listening across lines of difference. By 2021, we aim to have secured substantial local and federal funding to expand the Marion Voices project countywide.


Marion Voices grows out of MCHS’s renewed commitment to sharing the histories of non-white and working-class communities in the county, expanding our community partnerships, and fulfilling our mission to serve all of Marion County. As MCHS enters a new era, we are committed to connecting with underserved audiences and amplifying “everyday” histories from marginalized communities — starting by centering Black histories. Importantly, Marion Voices models leading-edge public humanities praxis by foregrounding a community- collaborative and co-curated approach. The result will be increased self-awareness in each community of its own recent history because of the shared authority participants will have in bringing their own histories to light. While our oral histories will be professionally conducted, support from a Major Grant will allow us to facilitate a series of co-curation meetings and community events, in which project interviewees and community partner organizations become collaborators in the public humanities process.


Marion Voices is timely: it syncs up with local heritage tourism efforts by building sense of place and pride-in-place during a time when Marion County is already reflecting on its identity and recent past. As the Marion community strives to develop social, cultural and economic expectations for the future, Marion Voices will provide a foundational common experience from which it can move forward with a sense of pride in history, and reckoning with difficult histories. Our project coincides with the Harding 2020 campaign, MCHS’s 50th Anniversary (2019), and the MarionMade! local pride campaign; and it serves as a “diversity and inclusion” arm of Marion’s upcoming 2020 Bicentennial, complicating & telling a broader story of Marion’s multiethnic history. This Marion Voices pilot will build a framework that we believe will eventually connect the county’s seven rural villages and our city center, to bridge diverse cultural, economic and racial/ethnic groups within the county, and to heal historic divides through humanities conversations.

Beyond the pilot phase of the Marion Voices Folklife + Oral History Project, we envision the Marion Voices project growing into a locally-supported, multi-year, county-wide oral history model that will catalyze “listening across difference” and become a replicable model for forward-thinking, community-collaborative & transformative local history work in other counties across Ohio.