So, What's Your Story?
Recognized recently in the pages of CoVa BIZ magazine as a “Millennial on the Move,” ViBe Story Exchange founder Sheena Jeffers, along with her friend, “partner in rhyme” and co-organizer, Jennifer Chapman, is matching spoken word artists, visual artists, dancers, cinematographers, photographers and other artists with members of the community who have a story to tell. And don’t we all?
With the goal of “constructing better human beings,” Jeffers describes those involved in Story Exchange thusly: “We are a group of arts-loving, community-focused project starters bringing together neighborhoods, businesses, artists and their mediums to share life stories close to our hearts.”
It works like this: anyone in the community—novice writer or professional, young or old—submits his or her story in 500–1,000 words via email to ViBeStoryExchange@gmail.com. Visual and performing artists are then asked to review the submissions, choose one or more that speaks to them and interpret it through their media.
Story Exchange writing prompts such as these may be used or not be used by the storytellers: “A time you lost something or someone you loved;” “A time when you had to be a good friend or someone was good to you;” “A time when you made a (difficult/fun/challenging/enlightening) decision and how it changed your life.” One woman recounted a painful narrative in which she had left her abusive husband and child and later struggled to restart her relationship with that child. And a fifth grade girl, who had tried to commit suicide, shared a story about losing her stuffed animal.
“There are no rules,” enthuses the effusive and genuine Jeffers. “Artists choose one, choose 10, intermingle or address individually.” So far the participating artists are people who Jeffers already knew, whose work embodies “a social justice thread” and who would “handle the stories with care.”
The resulting collaborations are then shared at special events in the ViBe Creative District where people are free to come and go and where an interactive component always adds another meaningful layer. One recent event offered a “Write a Letter/Take a Letter” opportunity which invited participants to give and get good advice related to the question, “How do you pick yourself up when you are down?”
To date, Story Exchange has presented five events: Visual Art at MOCA; Photography at Flo Pilates; Music and Spoken Word at Java Surf; Film at Esoteric; Dance, Spoken Word, Visual Art and Film at Push Comedy Theater (in conjunction with “Tell Me More” and the NEON Festival); and Illustration and Sculpture at Croc’s.
With Jeffers’ recent founding of Well Women of Virginia Beach (a group of women supporting women)—for which Chapman also serves in a co-organizing capacity—this dynamic duo is fast becoming known as an engine of community engagement across the board(walk).
Passionate and progressive, Jeffers, Chapman and their partners are pursuing Story Exchange’s heartfelt mission one story and one shared cup of coffee at time: “To make living life fun, vibrant, connected and full of art, food, friends and family.”