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Skidmore College

Visual literacy initiative accelerates with Moore Documentary Collaborative

June 24, 2014

Imagine taking a documentary writing course to shape a creative thought into a compelling story, then working over the summer with a nationally recognized documentarian to prepare that story for a public audience.

Maybe you’ll work with a filmmaker to translate your storyboard into a rough-cut, or with a professional audio engineer to put an oral history project on the radio, or with a curator to stage an exhibition for a museum or Web site. With your documentary in hand, you’ll win an internship with an Emmy-award winning alumnus or get your foot in the door with an international humanitarian organization documenting a government transition, environmental crisis, or other momentous event.

Whatever method draws you in, whatever story you want to tell—personal, local, national, global—Skidmore’s John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative can help you turn it into reality. This interdisciplinary initiative, being launched this coming fall, will incubate visual, audio, and word-based documentary projects through academic-year courses, workshops, lectures, and faculty development opportunities, in addition to intensive summer programming for students, faculty, professionals, and the local community.

During the academic year, the Moore Collaborative will offer classes in the principles of documentary and in documentary filmmaking, oral history, and exhibition, among other forms. As inaugural director Jordana Dym, professor of history, says, “Telling stories that matter means facing both out and in. On campus, we are excited to develop documentary tools that can enhance students’ critical and creative engagement with their majors and to deepen partnerships and draw on the skills of Skidmore faculty and staff. More than a dozen academic programs, Special Programs, the Tang Museum, and student clubs have been part of the past year’s interdisciplinary conversations on intersections of documentary arts and storytelling. Under the leadership of history department chair Tillman Nechtman, these many voices have generated synergies I look forward to supporting.”

She continues, “Looking outward, we will tap into a vibrant regional documentarian community and our extended alumni network for engaged and hands-on liberal learning. The Skidmore-Saratoga Memory Project, which will identify and facilitate the collection and dissemination of local stories, will help us develop those connections.”

A signature Moore Collaborative event will be the summer Storytellers’ Institute, bringing documentary professionals into conversation with each other, students, faculty, and the local community. The institute will offer intensive courses and provide students with the opportunity to engage professionals in master classes to support their own projects and those initiated in collaboration with faculty.

Centrally located in Scribner Library, the documentary center will be an idea incubator, supporting students working on senior capstone projects and faculty building documentary units for existing classes or experimenting with new ways of presenting scholarship. The Moore Collaborative will also draw on co-curricular resources such as Skidmore News, WSPN radio, and SkidTV, and will collaborate with the Tang Museum and WAMC Public Radio’s Southern Adirondack bureau on campus. A video and photography studio at Waring House will soon join the list of campus resources for interns and students working on media and film studies projects. 

The establishment of the Moore Collaborative continues a long partnership between Skidmore and the Moore family, which began with the arrival of Henry T. Moore in 1925 as the College’s second president. Moore’s son John and wife Bettina Towne Moore '41 have supported a number of past Skidmore projects including the Northwoods Village student apartments and Scribner Library. They have been joined in supporting this latest venture by Bettina’s son James Towne and wife Sue, who also assisted the College in launching its First-Year Experience before becoming driving forces in the creation of the Moore Collaborative.

The Townes’ interest in this project has been fueled by their passion for documenting the past and, in particular, the history of Skidmore and Saratoga Springs. By fostering dialogue between documentarians and the Skidmore community, they hope to showcase how a liberal arts education prepares students for professional success by supporting hands-on training to complement the existing curriculum with summer collaboration opportunities, ranging from intensive workshops to resources for completing ambitious documentary research and production projects.

The timing of the Moore Collaborative couldn’t be better. A generous Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant supplements the collaborative’s participation in the aptly named Project VIS, which also includes a new academic minor in media and film studies co-directed by English professors Tom Lewis and Jo Devine, and in the Visualization Forum, a faculty-development initiative headed up by arts professor Deb Hall.

Lewis, an award-winning documentarian, concludes: "Fall 2014 marks the perfect alignment of a number of propitious events at Skidmore. The Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative dovetails perfectly with the media and film studies minor and the Visualization Forum, and each of these entities will benefit our students and faculty, and beyond them the Saratoga Springs community."

Looking forward to summer 2015 and the inaugural Storyteller’s Institute, Skidmore President Philip Glotzbach says, “We fully anticipate that the Moore Collaborative will become a signature program reflecting Skidmore College’s innovative spirit and approach to undergraduate education.”

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