Marion Voices will combine oral history, folklife/ethnography and community co-curated exhibitions to cultivate a deeper and more diverse sense of place, work, history and culture in the county; and will turn attentions to the power of public humanities forms as transformative tools for community conversation. Critically, the project will allow MCHS to connect with historically underserved audiences in the county, including Marion’s communities of color, and the county’s seven villages; and will facilitate dialogue, exchange and deep listening to shared stories and experiences of work and place between near-neighbors, who may not interact often in daily life.

While our chief goal, thus, is to cultivate a “deepened sense of place,” we also anticipate that Marion Voices will carry a humanities social justice mission, via our commitment to methods that will encourage genuine exchange across lines of historic and contemporary difference, be they geographic, racial, ethnic, occupational, class, age, ability or gender. Our inclusive approach and broad project thematic foci (work/labor; place/environment) will allow this project to truly bridge demographics; and to bring unlikely voices and community members together in exploring the events, cultures, experiences, and abiding cultural arts traditions that have “made Marion” since the 1960s.


Marion Voices, as a community-collaborative oral history project seeking to share local histories to catalyze conversations around diverse senses of place, is a project rooted in interdisciplinary public humanities practice. Our project draws on principles, best practices, and methods from long-established humanities disciplines, including: folklife studies, oral history, public history, critical race and ethnic studies, and anthropology/ethnography; and imagines public humanities as transformative tools for community development.

Marion Voices will explore Marion’s Black histories “from the ground up” across the long arc of Civil Rights & deindustrialization. As a hybrid local history/oral history and folklife/ethnographic project, MCHS’s project will amplify how Marion’s Black residents built & build local culture, and interact with/ enact Marion’s recent history, since the 1960s.

Throughout, our oral history documentation, co-curation and public programming will explore two intertwined themes: (1) work; and (2) sense of place in Black Marion life. Informed by our community listening sessions in Fall 2018, Marion Voices centers working-class experiences by understanding “place” and “work” broadly — as themes encompassing everything from renting to restrictive covenants to homelessness, entrepreneurship to underemployment, strikes and layoffs. Moreover, we interpret Marion County not just as a bounded entity, but as a porous collection of places — made up of flows, mobilities, routes away, and roads back home (including the American South, where many Black residents emigrated from, 1950-1970s). 

Marion Voices’ core humanities questions are:

• How have the unique places and environments of Marion County — from rural villages to Marion City’s historically Black neighborhoods — shaped residents’ lives?

• How have the spaces used and made by Marion County’s Black communities changed since the 1960s?

• What other places — from Columbus to Mississippi — are tied in to stories of Marion County?

• How have legacies of racialized violence and anti-Blackness inflected the experiences, mobilities, and work lives of Black Marion residents, since the era of Civil Rights?

• How has the rapid deindustrialization of Marion County, since the 1980s — including the loss of major employers Tecumseh and Marion Power Shovel — challenged Black community life and economics in Marion? What modes of resilience and visions for futures have emerged?

• When communities have been consigned to certain “places,” how have residents — like the group of Black Harding High School students who staged a sit-in during the era of Black Power, or Black businesses on Marion’s West Side — organized to make their own spaces?

Marion Voices is a timely “humanities placemaking” project for Marion’s next decade; and speaks to the power of amplifying Black histories in a moment of broad interest in cultural revitalization in America’s former industrial and agricultural communities.


Our parallel project — the Marion Voices Countywide Folk/Traditional Arts Survey — seeks to capture the way that expressive cultural traditions of many genres (passed down informally, in small cultural, ethnic, religious, occupational, and neighborhood groups) have sustained diverse cultural legacies in Marion County.

Using a folklore/folklife toolkit, with support from Ohio Arts Council, we are launching a fourteen day countywide folk/traditional arts survey in Winter 2019, to document folk, traditional, and cultural arts — especially those from historically underrepresented cultural communities — in communities across Marion County. We will especially seek representation of cultural practitioners not only from Marion City, but across Marion’s seven villages. We are particularly excited to document cultural and traditional artists from the following Marion County cultural communities: Black/African-American, Latinx, Asian-American, immigrant/newcomer, rural, Appalachian, queer, disabled. This emphasis will allow our project work to aggregate and showcase the incredible cultural and traditional arts of important Marion County communities who have historically been denied attention and access in the arts.

Our work will result, in Spring 2020, in the publication of a Marion Voices ‘Culture Keepers’ Roster, on the model of similar folk/traditional arts rosters from the Oregon Folklife Network and other leading community public folklore initiatives. This searchable roster and map will showcase Marion County cultural artists, provide cultural context and histories of their genres and traditions, and provide samples of their work, and how and where you can experience it.

This pilot project is designed to support a full-time, ongoing Marion County Marion Voices Folklife Program for the future. To this end, in late Spring/early summer 2020, with the generous support of Ohio Arts Council, we will be working with several of the cultural/traditional artist surveyed for our roster to launch a pilot Marion Voices Folklife/Folk Arts Event series and/or culminating Marion Voices Folklife Festival, in collaboration with our community partner organizations!

Stay tuned for more information; and reach out to marionvoicesoralhistory at gmail dot com to recommend a community cultural artist for us to visit with and document for our countywide folklife survey!