Music and activity boomed from Pitzer College’s McConnell Center Apron last week as art and food vendors invited students to experience communities beyond the classroom.
The second annual Storyteller’s Festival last Thursday, April 13 at Pitzer was a collaborative event to invite students to participate in communities on and off campus through spoken word, music, film screenings, art and food.
“The biggest ambition is to bring people here and expose students to what is going on outside of their campus,” Celia Malone PZ ’24, a fellow at the Writing Center and organizer of the event, said. “[We went] out into the community and [found] people who represent different aspects of storytelling through food, jewelry, art, conversation and writing.”
A host of groups worked in collaboration to provide students with the opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation, including members of the Writing Center, Media Arts for Social Justice and Campus Life Committee, as well as groups not affiliated with the college such as the William James Association. This team effort allowed for many events to appear throughout the day for students to become active members of their communities and engage with purpose.
“This festival has always been about creating creative healing spaces where people can come together,” Ari Wood PZ ’21, an alum and organizer of the event, said. “[It’s about having that physical safe space for building community among the campuses but also with the surrounding communities.”
As the premier of the event was pushed to online workshops due to COVID-19 last year, the Storyteller’s Festival finally took place in person. Highlighting the significant gaps that were missing last year, this year’s festival focused on filling the spaces that a year apart created.
By hosting difficult conversations about oppression and marginalization, the storytelling focused on personal and communal experiences. This focus opened room for the festival to center all identities and share ethical ways of engaging with other communities.
“This [event] is about … having more chances for interaction and creativity and holding conversations about social justice, about resistance to systems of oppression, as well, and what that looks like today in our world,” Wood said.
Marilyn Grell-Brisk is a professor of organizational studies at Pitzer and organizer of the event. She emphasized the importance of making the experience beneficial for all parties involved.
“When people engage the community around here, sometimes it’s really extractive, and so right here, it’s more collaborative, bringing people in,” Grell-Brisk said.
Understanding the responsibility of organizing an event, those hosting made an effort to engage with as many stories as possible. By bringing students to sell their art and help organize the event, a variety of perspectives were presented.
“This [event] is about … having more chances for interaction and creativity, and holding conversations about social justice, about resistance to systems of oppression, as well, and what that looks like today in our world.”
One vendor, Zixi Yang PZ ’26, presented photographs, jewelry, posters and booklets at the festival for visitors to buy. She shared the way her professor reached out during a class to offer spots for selling art and the significance behind some of her art.
“This book is related to environmental issues with jewelry. I used those [jewels] to show human actions to nature,” Yang said.
Another way the community considered bringing people into the conversation was being aware of other groups’ work in the Pitzer community. The festival invited the Pitzer Black Student Union to engage in spoken word and highlighted the work that Claremont Student Worker Alliance (CSWA) is engaging in with Pitzer.
“Better understanding what labor networks look like in the areas around us is important for better understanding how we can support and uplift the people who work here in facilities,” Malone said.
Despite the collaboration and relentless work put into the event, the turnout was limited, with few people wandering in and out of events throughout the day. Few attendees were seen getting food from the carts and looking at the art on display.
“[The events] show how much more we need to show up for each other in community,” Mia Pizkett PZ ’26, an attendee of the event, said.
Professor Grell-Brisk agreed, noting that this is a common difficulty she faces when organizing such events.
“I’m always trying to bring folks in, and this is part of this trying to figure out how to bring the community here and to get students to interact,” she said.
As a festival designed for student outreach, it was apparent that student participation was lacking and was needed to bring even more vibrancy to the event. The festival still curated a unique community and hope for the future of the Storyteller’s Festival.
This year’s Storyteller’s Festival was a collaboration of community outreach and representation. Providing students with the opportunity to interact with communities outside the Claremont bubble, spoken word, music, art, food and film screenings created conversations of positive and thoughtful change.
“I hope,” Wood said, “that students are just inspired to continue having the conversations that are happening here today about how we are bringing about social justice and making it a reality in our day-to-day instead of just … an abstract topic of conversation.”