Civic embarrassment: Bicentennial Commission goes mercenary, disses localism. (December 27, 2011)
... If the “official” bicentennial celebration is going to be the same old white-bread-and-Budweiser karaoke show, it’s time for the creative class to get to work on the underground version.
The workaday world invariably interferes with good ideas, but tomorrow afternoon (Thursday, March 29) at 4:00 p.m., we hope to get started on this task, which I think of as providing the people's corrective to the usual institutionalized banality. I'll be meeting Gregg Seidl at Bank Street Brewhouse to discuss the New Albany Bicentennial Writers' Project, which began percolating on December 30 with a posting at NAC, as reprinted below. I suspect we'll be looking at a very low cost model of an on-line format to begin gathering material. Where it goes after that is anyone's guess; all I promise is to refrain from burdening Southern Indiana's tourism authority by extending a tin cup in their general direction.
You are welcome to attend. Please do.
What we need: The New Albany Bicentennial Writers' Project.
Books don’t seem to matter as much as they used to, and so it was instructive to witness a generally annoyed reaction to the Bicentennial commission’s non-transparent decision (itself so indicative of the city’s generational tendencies) to ingloriously import a freelancer from Tennessee to “write the book” on New Albany.
Both here, at the newspaper and on Facebook, savvy readers immediately grasped the obvious: It makes no sense to employ a freelancer from afar when the writers we already have can do the job.
New Albany’s history reads like any other city’s record, in the sense that it boasts the sublime and the ridiculous in roughly equal measure. The commission’s aim in producing a coffee table book for fund-raising purposes undoubtedly is to render the standard, glowing and heroic account of numerous bearded white folks defying the odds to raise a city from the flood plain – when, of course, it would have been far more sensible of them to leave the bottomland be and place it on the non-tubercular hillside.
Respectable history is one thing, and daily life something else entirely. To me, the ideal Bicentennial book would be a written snapshot of New Albany at 200, looking back and ahead, inclusive of a number of perspectives, and unafraid both to celebrate the victories and to dissect the warts.
What is needed is a New Albany Bicentennial Writers' Project (BWP), with a goal of producing “The People’s History of New Albany”, nodding toward historians like the late Howard Zinn, and his life’s work of balancing the talking points of officialdom. New Albany is a place filled with numerous instructive and entertaining stories, most of which would have no place in the Babbitt History of New Albany (thank you, Sinclair Lewis). That’s all the more reason to pursue them.
Know from the very start that this is going to be hard, hard work. First, what are the major themes in the New Albany historical narrative worthy of examination? Who’ll be doing the writing, and when is the work due? How do we pay for it, with local government already stating its inexplicable preference for the “infallible fatherland version” of the past?
Well, I’m willing to put in the time, and as for the money ... we'll figure it out.
Let them have their “official” volume. Conversely, let’s aim to create a thought-provoking counterweight. Who knows? It might turn into a permanent feature of the New Albanian landscape.