1500 Stories is a collaborative art and digital storytelling project about economic and class inequality in the U.S.  The project, started in 2015, is developing an interactive digital collection of audio and video stories and visual arts about what it is like to live in different class positions.  Already, over 650 interviews from the Silicon Valley, Wisconsin and New Jersey have been contributed to the 1500 Stories archive.  Someday, the project will culminate in a 5-mile long public art installation and civic engagement experience. The project’s title is inspired by a poster by Stephen J. Rose depicting the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. and the fact that by 2013, the poster would need to be 1500 stories tall to capture the richest 1%. The 1500 Stories project will literalize this gap between the richest and the rest of us in the form of the 5-mile art installation and experience—roughly equivalent to 1500 stories of height. The project uses the metaphor of the 1500 stories to collect and share actual stories of the lived experience of class inequality in the U.S.

I can remember standing outside a faculty member’s office as an undergrad, studying the Social Stratification poster outside his office that showed where Americans stood based on their income and wealth. When I first became a teacher, I bought that poster and would bring it into class when it was time to teach about income inequality. At the time, the poster would have needed to be 3 stories tall in order to capture the richest Americans and I used to joke with my De Anza students that I was going to make a 3 story long banner and unfurl it from the top of our tallest building on campus. ☺ I was shocked during the Winter of 2015 to get my poster based on the latest census data and to see that in the 18 years I have been teaching, the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of us had widened from 3 stories to 1500 stories, from 36 feet to 5 miles. That phrase, 1500 Stories, haunted me. And I realized that I wanted to collect those stories and make real that 5 miles, that 1500 stories.

A core working group of De Anza College faculty and staff, as a joint project of our three outward facing organizations–the California History Center, the Euphrat Museum of Art, and the Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action–will be partnering with several community organizations in the Silicon Valley to begin story gathering this year. Since 2015 we have partnered with other community organizations to mount a series of public forums about economic inequality, including Sacred Heart Community Service, which serves 90,000 poor people in San José, and Silicon Valley Rising, as well as with On Route 22 and the Downtown Streets Team to do storygathering with San José residents who are homeless.  And volunteers at De Anza College, Foothill College, San José State University, and the LGBT Wellness Speakers Bureau in the Silicon Valley, the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, Palomar College in San Marcos, CA, and Monmouth University in New Jersey, and the LGBT Wellness Speakers Bureau.

1500Stories_letterheadfooter_800pixels

1500 Stories needs the support of patrons like you to get started! Your donations to the project will help us mount storygathering events and participatory art activities related to the project, purchase audio and video equipment to help volunteers to collect and share stories, compensate professional editors so that we can begin sharing stories, provide training to build media-making capacity among volunteers, and continue to develop the website that hosts and share the stories we gather. You can make a tax-deductible donation to the project through our fiscal sponsor, the Foothill-De Anza Foundation. You can send a check—BE SURE TO PUT “1500 STORIES” IN THE MEMO LINE!–to FHDA Foundation, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills CA 94022. Or you can donate online at: https://foundation.fhda.edu/how-to-give/donate_now.html. PLEASE BE SURE TO CHOOSE “OTHER” IN THE PROGRAM BOX AND TYPE IN “1500 STORIES”!

I have big dreams for this project, and hope it will move to other places after we make it happen in the Silicon Valley. If you have questions about it or would like to participate in the story gathering, feel free to e-mail me at jennifermyhre@1500stories.org. You can submit your own audio, video or photo stories at the following link: 1500 Stories Story Submissions. Thank you so much for you support!

Sincerely,
Jennifer R. Myhre, Ph.D.
Director, 1500 Stories Project

Special thanks to Dr. Stephen J. Rose, whose unparalleled work on the Social Stratification in the United States data visualization inspired this project. Thanks also to Salamander Breiter, whose sketches and questions and vision helped shape what this website has become, and to the amazing folks at the Design Action Collective who made that vision a reality.


This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit calhum.org. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this narrative do not necessarily represent those of California Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.