TRAVERSE CITY — Every story — sung or spoken — weaves together a common thread of passions kept close and feared forgotten.

The Long Memory Project, an endeavor by the Neahtawanta Research and Education Center and Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology, brings stories of activism from northern Michigan’s elders back to the forefront with a concert and storytelling event on Dec. 9.

“So many young people in this community are hungry for these things, but don’t know what they’re hungry for,” said Brad Kik, Crosshatch co-founder. “There’s a lot of kids who want to pick up this work and would find value in hearing the history of it.”

His hope is to pay homage to little-known social and environmental issues waning in the memories of younger generations with the help of several artists: musicians Seth Bernard, Sam Cooper and Zach Watson and writers Jaime Delp and Amber Edmondson.

The project, after years of planning, kicked off in early October with a story-sharing event between those artists and several community elders at the Neahtawanta Inn. The artists listened intently to each tale woven by elders, and now are working to turn those stories into songs and poems for the December show.

“I think it’s a really unique concept — I’m happy it’s happening,” said Sally Van Vleck, owner of the Neahtawanta. “We thought it’d be a special way to conserve those memories.”

Stories shared include fights to uphold native fishing rights, protesting the construction of the Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant and local support for national movements, like anti-war demonstrations.

The artists spent several days at the Neahtawanta afterwards. They met for dinner each evening to share progress and inspirations.

“We covered a lot of ground, so I’m interested to see what they wrote about,” Van Vleck said.

“It was really powerful for us to be there working,” Bernard added. “It’s really important and I think it’s really beautiful, too, to hear from people about work they did for the common good.”

Bernard’s pieces for the concert include a collaboration with Kik about Big Rock and a longer, overarching song about the value of activism and a nod to each story told. The longtime musician, who calls his work mainly folk and rock 'n' roll, plans to perform each in a simple, acoustic style.

“So much good can come out of this resistance, even if you don’t get the outcome you’re hoping for,” Bernard said. “You build community through activism.”

The Long Memory Project’s a long time coming — Van Vleck and Kik created the concept around 2014 while attending a Pete Seeger memorial concert.

Van Vleck pointed out one of the late musician’s songs, written about Big Rock, to Kik.

He returned a blank stare.

“She looked at me like I’d dropped something valuable,” Kik said with a laugh. “It was a genesis — I realized in that moment that there was this disconnect about the work she and her compatriots had done that I just didn’t know about.”

It spurred Kik to start conversations — with other creators, with elders and with organizations to fund a show like the Lost Memory Project.

Bernard got on board soon after with his organization, the Earthwork Music Collective.

“It’s a vision we’ve been holding for a long time,” he said. “I think bringing these elders back together to share this history has a lot of meaning.”

Along with Neahtawanta, Earthwork and the Bellaire-based Crosshatch, writer Holly Wren Spaulding and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts brought the efforts to fruition.

Kik hopes to host more of the story-sharing events in the future, both locally and in communities throughout the state and country.

“This community has so many more stories to share,” Kik said. “There’s so many valuable things in these stories we can learn from them.”

“It’s an idea worth spreading, an idea worth supporting in other communities,” Bernard added. “There isn’t anything quite like it.”

Mark your calendar

The Long Memory Project culminates in a local concert on Dec. 9 at 3:30 p.m. at Kirkbride Hall, 700 Cottageview Drive, Traverse City.

Doors open at 3 p.m. and tickets are $20.

Features writer