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Lehigh Valley Live: Got Musikfest stories? Historic Bethlehem wants to hear ’em

August 7th, 2017 |

Written by Sara K. Satullo for Lehigh Valley Live

Musikfest hadn’t even opened Friday and people were lining up inside the Goundie House on Main Street to share their personal stories about the 10-day festival.

That was when LoriAnn Wukitsch realized how much Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites’ newest exhibits were already resonating with the people making it possible.

Mugshots: Oral Histories and Musikfest Memorabilia each turn to the community to help tell the 34-year history of America’s largest, ungated free music festival.

Mugshots is a living museum exhibit, capturing the oral histories and photos of Musikfest lovers throughout the fest in real time. New interviews and photos of participants will be added to the exhibit daily, allowing it to grow as the festival progresses. The tales will be recorded via the StoryCorps cell phone app and archived with the Library of Congress.

“They (participants) can really see themselves reflected in the exhibition,” curator Lindsey Jancay said.

Musikfest Memorabilia will let visitors take a walk down memory lane, back to when there were no mugs, just pitchers, and the Chicken Lady danced down Main Street.

Organizers hope that the exhibits show festival attendees that history isn’t stodgy and dull. That it is a living, breathing, thing happening around us all each day, which every single one of us is participating in, Wukitsch, who is managing director for Historic Bethlehem, said.

Humans have an innate desire to share important personal stories with others. Jancay saw this firsthand during a Musikfest brainstorming session with the staff.

“It really turned into people sharing their memories and stories of Musikfest,” Jancay said. “And it was a really energizing moment to our discussion and I think that is what is at the heart of the exhibition itself.”

While some may be hearing the term oral history for the first time, the idea taps into the age old practice of storytelling and adds a modern spin. Instead of passing stories down by mouth, memories, historic information, events and personal interviews are collected and preserved through sound or video recordings.

Lots of people have already been interviewed, like Pat Poletz the Chicken Lady and local artist Ben Marcune, who is behind several Musikfest poster designs, and they are already incorporated into the exhibit, Jancay said. Then there’s a woman who moved to Bethlehem in the middle of Musikfest to her surprise, she said.

“Our main desire in first reaching out to people was to get a variety (of participants) and show individuals coming into the exhibition what it could be, who we are looking to capture stories from,” Jancay said. “It really is anyone.”

Anyone can add their story to the exhibit. If you’re interested in recording an interview, pop into the Goundie House, 501 Main St., from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. any day of the festival.

You’ll be invited back to the interview room, outfitted by the furniture store Domaci, and sit down with a trained interviewer for a 10- to 15-minute chat.

The interview will be recorded and uploaded to the StoryCorps website — a nonprofit oral history group dedicated to collecting and sharing memories — where it will be archived in the Library of Congress database. All of the Mugshots interviews will be able to be listened to via the StoryCorps website.

To commemorate the faces behind the stories, Historic Bethlehem is snapping a black-and-white portrait of each participant, who will be asked to choose one word to describe Musikfest and write it on the photo. The photos will be displayed in a rotating exhibit on the first floor of the Goundie House until Sept. 1.

“People can interview on Saturday and come back on Sunday and see their framed portrait up,” Jancay said.

They’ll know their story has been memorialized and they’ll have “ownership of building this history together as a community,” she said.

If someone doesn’t want to do a full interview, they can step into the photo booth for a polaroid picture and write one word that sums up what Musikfest means to them on the photo. The photos will be displayed on the community board. Kids are invited to draw their own portrait to add to the board.

Historic Bethlehem is also asking people to use the #FestMemories to share their own stories or photos on social media.

Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites is also opening the Luckenbach Mill to the public during the festival, offering STEM activities for kids on the first floor and a Lehigh Valley Art Alliance juried exhibit on the second. The 1762 Waterworks will be open as well.

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