WGBH takes on massive outreach campaign

PBS' 'American Experience' doc series will roll out WGBH Boston's We Shall Remain in April 2009, but the ball is already rolling on a number of outreach projects based on the five-part Native American historical mini-series.
September 24, 2008

PBS’ ‘American Experience’ doc series will roll out WGBH Boston’s We Shall Remain in April 2009, but the ball is already rolling on a number of outreach projects based on the five-part Native American historical mini-series.

Sharon Grimberg, executive producer, says that ‘American Experience’ does not normally do outreach projects, but We Shall Remain felt like an important project that demanded a robust outreach initiative. This led to the largest ever outreach project undertaken by ‘AE’. What started as an application to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for money to do coalitions in five locations turned into 15 coalitions across the county, at the CPB’s urging.

Grimberg says that after putting out a request for proposal with certain requirements – stations had to come back with native partners, had to describe the kind of activities they wanted to do, were encouraged to come up with additional broadcast elements – the stations with the most robust activities proposals and the strongest partnerships were selected. We Shall Remain now has a partnership coalition in Anchorage, Alaska; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; Arkansas; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Los Angeles, California; San Diego, California; Carbondale, Illinois; Duluth, Minnesota; Lincoln, Nebraska; Rochester, New York; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Vermillion, South Dakota and Spokane, Washington.

Bruce Curliss, outreach project director, says the outreach has three different forms. ‘One is the community coalitions, one is a library initiation and the other is continuing to do outreach with strategic national partners, for instance, the National Council for Social Studies,’ he says.

Of those 15 coalitions, each has slightly different goals for their outreach plans, says Grimberg. Some of them are very interested in youth and education, focusing on changing curriculum in local schools, with teachers’ guides and multimedia resources. Many of the partners will produce their own regional Native-focused documentaries. The projects also take on other forms, like storytelling festivals, photo-essay events, traveling museum exhibits and more. The coalitions are getting started on their plans, already having meetings and fundraisers.

The outreach also extends to the American Library Association. The ALA’s past president, (her tenure ended in June) Loriene Roy is Ojibwa and she made We Shall Remain an important part of her presidency. She worked with WGBH to create outreach materials for the 17,000 public libraries around the country, including tribal libraries. ‘Every public library and every tribal college will receive this library event kit,’ says Curliss, which includes guides for the screening of the films, and will create the opportunity for dialogs on other Native issues, ‘from the mascot issue to storytelling to stereotypes and really create the buzz by engaging those tribal and non-tribal folks.’

ReelNative, a workshop where in which natives are trained in filmmaking, is another facet of the outreach. Workshop participants learn how to create short films and personal documentary stories. Completed films have already been selected to show at film festivals, two at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and two at Paris’ Pompidou Center. The National Museum of the American Indian in D.C. will be screening them for Native American Heritage Month in November. We Shall Remain‘s website will launch towards the end of next month with ReelNative films.

The outreach also extends to radio with a public radio series, funded by CPB grant. Broadcast at the same time as the television broadcast, the radio series will feature contemporary stories about Native Americans that will link the past to the present.

Grimberg stresses that the project aims to present a realistic depiction of Native American history as well as their current state today. ‘It was very important to us that the contemporary part of the project, the ‘remain’ part get across, that they’re still here and their cultures are – despite all the difficulties and the traumas that they face – intact – and that they are looking for new ways into the future. The coalitions and the outreach are important parts of that, for non-native people to meet native people and talk about these issues and to end certain kinds of stereotypes.’

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.