Original Date: 01/22/2001
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Economic Development and Preservation Through Storytelling
The National Storytelling Festival has brought about economic development success as well as preserved the heritage of Jonesborough. Through this festival, the town is promoting a disappearing art form while maintaining a genuine small town atmosphere that has been lost to most of America.
Jonesborough, founded over 200 years ago in the heart of the southern Appalachian Mountains, is the oldest town in Tennessee. After a long and distinguished history, Tennessee’s first town began to decay in the late 1960s. Malls in neighboring communities began luring Jonesborough’s customers away and eroding the town’s economy. Soon, local shops were empty and buildings fell into disrepair. Not content to let the deterioration go unchecked, the town leaders devised a plan to reverse the decline. They surmised that Jonesborough’s future must lie in its past. By the early 1970s, the town leaders set up the Jonesborough Civic Trust to undertake this renewal to preserve the old town, restore its historic buildings, and build a new economy based on tourism.
The first attempts were centered on a weekend-long festival celebrating Jonesborough’s history and heritage. After three years, however, the popularity of the event had grown to the point that the organizers felt changes were needed in order to attract more people. The idea of incorporating storytelling as an event came about after one of the organizers heard a radio broadcast of a popular southern storyteller. In 1973, Jonesborough held its first storytelling festival, drawing approximately 60 attendees to this first-of-a-kind event. Two years later, the National Storytelling Association was formed to spearhead America’s storytelling renaissance. This association was restructured in 1998 into two sister organizations: (1) the National Storytelling Network which serves and supports the growing community of storytellers and storytelling professionals throughout the world, and (2) the International Storytelling Center which promotes the power of storytelling and the creative applications of this ancient tradition to enrich the human experience in the home, at the workplace, and within the world community.
Today, the National Storytelling Festival plays a major role in the re-development of Jonesborough, drawing 10,000 visitors to this region annually. The three-day event brings in more than $2 million to the local economy, and has resulted in the restoration and preservation of the town’s historic buildings. The International Storytelling Center continues to make improvements to the festival based on feedback gathered from local businesses and from suggestion boxes set up for attendees. In addition, a $10-million storytelling complex has been built,with plans to provide storytelling activities throughout the year.
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