Posted in Mississippi Art News

“Telling Your Story. No, Really” via ARTSblog

This great article called “Telling Your Story. No, Really.” by Deb Vaughn was recently featured on Americans for the Arts’ blog site ARTSblog and is definitely a share-worthy piece. Deb oversees the Oregon Arts Commission’s Arts Education programs, including the Arts Learning grant program and the Poetry Out Loud program, and has been a guest blogger for ARTSblog since the beginning of 2011. I think her post is right on point with this year’s Kennedy Center Partner in Education theme of Connect -> Create -> Act because often telling our story and making personal connections about the importance of our work to people outside our field that do not place a high value on the arts can be a huge challenge. I hope you enjoy!


Telling Your Story. No, Really.

by Deborah Vaughn on October – 23 – 2012.

We get asked to “tell our story” all the time in the arts. Who are you? Why do you value this work? What is it that you hope to accomplish? How will you get there?

Funders demand it from grant applicants. Legislators require it of state agencies, lobbyists, and constituents. Individual artists have to do it to justify their work.

Even as a working professional, being able to concisely “tell the story” of what I do all day is an important skill, especially at family reunions, when Crazy Uncle Dave asks: “Now, what is it you do again?”

But rarely do any of us do it well. We get so wrapped up in the desired outcome of telling our story that we forget: the best way to achieve that outcome is to tell a compelling story. It’s as simple as that.

At a professional development training earlier this month, hosted by SpeakeasyDC, I was reminded of what it actually takes to TELL A STORY.

The facilitators asked us to think of a time when the arts impacted our lives.

We started by telling the story out loud to someone else (writing or typing your story will activate the “mean writing teacher” that sits on your shoulder, bogging you down in grammar and punctuation and sentence structure. Keep it verbal and keep going). This helps you and your listener determine which points are memorable and which are expendable.

Then our partner told the story back to us. See how it is no longer MY story, but THE story? That’s what we’re going for: finding a universal truth that the listener can connect to their own life. That’s the whole point to a good story. And when pitching a project to a funder, isn’t that your goal?

Then, we went in the time machine: back to seventh grade Language Arts class. Yes, this: 

It may seem overly simple, but all we did was apply a plot diagram to our story.

And here’s the thing: it wasn’t the tedious exercise I remembered from seventh grade. It was actually a tool that helped me find the details needed to carry the listener on the story’s journey, to flesh out the protagonist, to make the most of the climax and to drive home the resolution.

Aided by skillful facilitators, the story took on a complete arc and became a powerful advocacy tool.

Thinking about your organization, school or project in terms of a plot diagram can be a tool for helping you tell your story more effectively. And if you need a little extra coaching, try connecting with a writing group in your area. The basic elements of a compelling story doesn’t change, regardless of your desired outcome.

What story would you like to tell more effectively? Who is your protagonist? What expositional details does the listener need to know?

What is the conflict? (You HAVE to have a central conflict!) What are the rising actions that build suspense? What is the climax? Tell me a story!


Vaughn, Deborah. “Telling Your Story. No, Really.” ARTSblog. Americans for the Arts, 23 Oct. 2012. <>.


1. How should we frame the story of our partnerships?
2. What elements of our story are most important to make connections to others?
3. How can we make our story worthy of others wanting to act on it? What does that action look like?
4. How do we move from summarizing and simplifying our story to engaging the listener?



The mission of the Greenville Arts Council is to promote the rich cultural heritage of the region and stimulate and encourage cultural activities, arts appreciation, arts education, and the creative works of artists. Some of the responsibilities that help define the Greenville Arts Council as the primary promoter of the arts in our area include offering art classes to children and adults, organizing community events, presenting an ongoing series of free exhibits featuring visual artists from the area and the state, and coordinating educational programs which teach arts-integration in local schools. The Greenville Arts Partnership between the Greenville Arts Council, the Greenville Public School District and our three community arts partners, Delta Center Stage, Delta Symphony Association and the Delta Children’s Museum, is focused on full arts integration in the GPSD elementary schools. Plentiful research documents the value of the teaching in and through the arts to help students understand core academic concepts on a deep level. The partnership was the first in the state of Mississippi accepted into the Kennedy Center Partners in Education Program in 2003, joining over 100 other partnerships between school districts and arts organizations across the country. The partnership provides professional development for teachers, arts experiences for students and resource and referral on arts integration issues. Professional development has been provided in two ways, through workshops with Teaching Artists from the Kennedy Touring Roster and grade-level and/or discipline-specific professional development with our local staff. We present a series of model demonstration lessons to teachers in grades K to 6, demonstrating connections between Partnership free arts programming and required state frameworks. The partner arts groups present a series of live performances allowing each elementary child in the GPSD to attend at least once each year. The groups work with the Arts Council staff to develop accompanying curriculum-based educational material for distribution to teachers prior to each performance. Over the years, we have succeeded in providing basic arts integration training district-wide as well as in-depth professional development to allow groups of teachers to increase their level of mastery.