Cap’s Off to You!–Utah Presenters Network and Celebrating Story

The Utah Presenters Network is a “must” gathering at the annual Mountain West Arts Conference. We would meet across several tables and share thoughts and ideas as fellow producer of events. Little did I know until recently that the Utah Presenters Network has been around since 1991. For some time, the Utah Presenters Network has served as a nonprofit that sought to boost collaborations among producers while promoting the arts in the state of Utah and beyond. Then, during this crazy 2020 year, it was announced that the Utah Presenters Network would give a one-time COVID-19 relief grant. We applied and received $950, which was a relief considering some of our non-refundable costs due to transforming from a live to a virtual festival.

Besides Story Crossroads, the following organizations were funded:

  • Davis Arts Council
  • Egyptian Theatre
  • Friends of the Moab Folk Festival
  • Moab Music Festival
  • Mountain Town Music
  • Park City Performing Arts Foundation (Park City Institute)
  • Pilar Pobil Legacy Foundation
  • West Valley Arts (Utah Cultural Celebration Center/Harman Theatre)

For a long time, Wendi Hassan served as Executive Director of the Utah Presenters Network. She is the Executive Director of the Cache Valley Center for the Arts in Logan, Utah and has always been an active volunteer and supporter with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.

Robin Wilks-Dunn is the new Utah Presenters Network Executive Director. She knows the theater world due to experience with the Salt Lake Acting Company and working with the Playwrights’ Lab. She serves on the National Advisory Committee for Kennedy Center Partners in Education.

The Utah Presenters Network has a closed/private Facebook group, which allows organizations to share a Google Drive and work out block booking of performing artists…including professional story artists.

Some topics of most importance to UPN:

  • Crisis Communications Best Practices
  • Keeping Audiences Engaged during all the Virtual Programming
  • Future Funding for Arts Organizations and Performing Artists
  • Best Practices in Communicating with Sponsors and Donors
  • Effective Advocacy Efforts

In many ways, the UPN is a “quiet” group with much happening through networking, emails, and phone calls. The performing artists get the stage, but producers–and this whole network of producers–takes care of the details to make sure that stage still exists.

Many thanks to what UPN has done for us as well as many presenting organizations throughout Utah.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to the Utah Presenters Network!

Find our E-Newsletter and Email List Sign-Ups.

See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities. See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here.

And…Spread the word about our upcoming live House Concerts (with recordings) and the All Things Story Virtual Workshop Series through Story Crossroads.

Cap’s Off to You!–Salt Lake City Arts Council and Celebrating Story

The Salt Lake City Arts Council has helped more than once…including a combination of spoken storytelling with visual and culinary arts from around the world. Then, in 2020, we had big plans to send professional story artists to the Glendale Library, the Blind Center, and two schools in Salt Lake City. Covid-19 happened…and we had to adjust. At least Story Crossroads Spectacular could provide virtual field trips. We wanted to do more. The grant from Salt Lake City Arts Council was the answer. We are thrilled to still work with youth at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City with proper distancing. 

Flashing back to 2016, we had the privilege of introducing storytelling to 25 youth with “Around the World: The Tellable, Edible Art Project” with collaboration of the Glendale Community Center and Bad Dog Arts including our presenters: Storytellers Janine Nishiguchi and Jan C. Smith, Visual Artist Kirsten Schiel, and Culinary Artist Elizabeth Montoya. The youth were a little shy as storytelling was not an art usually offered. Rather than focusing on individual stories, the facilitators had it be group storytelling that still expressed the structure of story and how engaging the whole experience can be.

Now we look forward to 20 youth with Story Camp led by Storytellers Cherie Davis and Ginger Parkinson. It will be different. We cannot have the youth gather up in a tight circle like before. Instead? We are using hula hoops as a visual reminder to space out for proper distancing. Masks are the new form of camp t-shirts. The fun will be the same.

All these storytelling ventures are possible because of the Salt Lake City Arts Council. They have their own festival every year.

Normally, the Living Traditions Festival takes place immediately after Story Crossroads. We are mid-May Wednesday with outreaches kick off the Monday before and on through Thursday. Living Traditions takes over the Friday through Sunday afterwards. We both spotlight multicultural art.

Due to the dancing and singing cultural groups, Living Traditions was postponed to 2021.

This is from the Salt Lake City Arts Council website:

Approximately 30,000 people participate in the Living Traditions Festival each year, including students, families, performers, exhibiting artists, volunteers and attendees. More than 70 different cultural groups are represented each year—from Bosnian stuffed pitas and West African samosas to Chinese dragon dancing and Scottish bagpipes. The sights and flavors of the Festival cannot be found at any other cultural event in Utah.

The Living Traditions Festival is dedicated to preserving Utah’s diverse cultural landscape, by supporting the varied artistic traditions and cultural perspectives that create and sustain a strong and vibrant community. We achieve this mission by collaborating with folk and traditional artists and community members in sharing languages, food, art, dance and educational activities. Through the presentation of both historical and contemporary customs, Living Traditions aims to facilitate thoughtful conversations about the unique qualities of various cultures, and the similarities of the human experience, while creating bonds among community members.

Besides this remarkable festival, the Salt Lake City Arts Council offers grants, has the Finch Lane Gallery, the Public Art Program, the Twilight Concert Series, and plenty of outreaches in the community.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to the Salt Lake City Arts Council!

Find our E-Newsletter and Email List Sign-Ups.

See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities. See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here.

And…Spread the word about our upcoming Story Camp for youth aged 8-17 in mid-August of two kinds: Limited-Sized/Proper-Distanced as well as Virtual.

Cap’s Off to You!–Barbara Schutzgruber and Celebrating Story

The name “Barbara Schutzgruber” was on my radar due to her active involvement and expertise in the storytelling world. Yet, I have come to respect her beyond a name and more as a giving and kind person.

We put a call out on Facebook for the need to find someone who could help us with masks. We wanted to phase from full-virtual to limited-sized/proper-distanced live events. To protect performers and the audience alike, we needed everyone to wear masks. However, supplies were low. Barbara was recommended. She promptly responded and created masks in the blue/orange colors of Story Crossroads with over two months to spare. Then in early June 2020, we cheered her on as she received the ORACLE Award from the National Storytelling Network for the North Central Region. Well, we certainly love her in this Western Region, too.

She honors and loves folktales as much as we do at Story Crossroads. She joked that people who tell folktales are “bone collectors” because the “skeleton of a story is already there” and makes it easy for plot structure as opposed to creating the whole story.

She may tease though she has a serious body of folktales and ballads developed for over 38 years. She mainly collects stories that feature weaving, spinning, and stitching. She expressed, “Old stories still have a lot to say–a depth there that is timeless, and has the ability to relate to many audiences.” Her weaving of stories and fibers earned her a recent spotlight with the Michigan League of Handweavers.

She has attended many fairs and historical places. She finds that simply calling out to someone, “Come here, I have a story for you!” can have people shy away. When she is sitting at her loom and talking while weaving, people are more likely to draw near and listen to the stories.

Barbara noted that the Fiber Arts Community–around the nation and locally–were contacted in early March 2020 to respond to the shortage of masks. She is part of the Ann Arbor Fiberarts Guild. She was in “production mode” when notified by us. She had sewn several hundred for the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and the University of Michigan Hospital and decided to donate her time for medical needs as well as for her fellow storytellers.

Barbara is a regular donor for online and silent auctions with her fiber works featured through the National Storytelling Network, Northlands Storytelling Network, and other storytelling organizations and scholarships. Being kind to Story Crossroads was a natural gesture. She stated, “I know storytellers don’t have money–can’t afford it!” With the pandemic, finances are even tighter.

She compared her pieces–like shawls and scarves–as part of her repertoire. Once she donates them, those pieces are no longer in her repertoire.

Yet, as a storyteller, she said, “Once you learned something, it’s in your repertoire to stay.” She explained this is why she is more willing to donate her fiber works and focuses her payments to be more storytelling-focused.

Thus, her peers recognize her for her fiber works as well as for her caliber of professionalism and craftsmanship in telling stories. For the first time ever, the ORACLE awards hosted by the National Storytelling Network had an ORACLE Concert and Barbara was selected for this honor. She laughed that she learned about it a little over a week before the event. She was notified by someone from Pacific Daylight Time and she was on Eastern Daylight Time. That call came at midnight. “Though what news!” Dorothy Cleveland from Minnesota gathered all the testimonials and details for the award. See the picture below of accepting the ORACLE by virtual means as well as the ORACLE concert later on.

Barbara’s wish is that people will see her as a “solid, consistent performer.” She is all that as well as a “solid, consistent” human being.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to Barbara Schutzgruber!

Remember, Story Crossroads also have year-round events such as the house concerts to be transitioned into live/virtual with limited-seating and proper distancing.  This is also a countdown to virtual “The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities” on Saturday, June 20, 2020 from 9:00am-10:30am MDT.

See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here.

Starting June 22, 2020, we will have a 9-part Blog Series called “Reawakenings & Reflections” to focus on each of the 9 days of the National Storytelling Network’s CONNECTED Virtual Conference & Festival.

Cap’s Off to You!–Kathy Palermo and Celebrating Story

Kathy PalermoMost people see the results of Kathy Palermo’s work and do not know to whom to give thanks.  Kathy keeps the details to herself so I had to do much sleuthing.  She is a mystery who will remain unsolved, though I know enough about her to be satisfied in not knowing everything.  What is most important is her incredible dedication to the art of storytelling.

Contribution to Storytelling Community
At this time, the National Youth Storytelling is connected with the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Utah.  This event used to be in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee originally named the National Youth Storytelling Olympics (NYSO) and three years of its existence was in the Hanford/Lemoore/Fresno area of California.

Kathy Palermo practically co-chaired the the National Youth Storytelling Olympics with  Kevin Cordi.  Kathy’s portion of the load was phenomenal.  First of all, she trained her high school storytelling troupe, the Lemoore Tellers, to be mentors for the youth Olympic  finalists.  She taught the Lemoore Tellers and the NYSO finalists some storytelling games that, most likely, are still played by former finalists.

Sometimes the Lemoore Tellers did not have rides to participate in all the events connected with NYSO.  Kathy noted who these students were and offered rides so all felt welcomed.  No one knows the miles she has put on her vehicle through the years.  Even Kathy would not know.  What has been observed is that the youth always filed out of her van with smiles on their faces and energy in their strides, as their conversations with Kathy must have inspired the enthusiasm.

Kathy partnered with community groups to put on the Lemoore High School Barbecue, a tradition extended to the NYSO finalists and their families.

One year we had a NYSO finalist who needed a wheelchair at the event but did not know where to get one.  Kathy quickly volunteered a wheelchair that she had at her ranch.  She apologized to the youth that it was not an electric one.  Even when Kathy gives to others, she wishes to give more.  The youth smiled and let Kathy know that she was glad she could roll on stage rather than hobbling to the center.

Before the NYSO finalists graced the stage, however, Kathy did her best to train a couple youth from the Lemoore Tellers to be emcees for the event. She aimed for her youth to give short, quick introductions with punch.  She expected her youth to practice the scripts for at least an hour so that the names of the NYSO finalists were pronounced correctly and that there was a natural rhythm.  Otherwise, some emcees have little to no preparation.  Emcees have a direct influence to the concert and Kathy shared this belief
with her youth.

Every year she sent a Letter to Board of Trustees about the community service done by the Lemoore Tellers in regards to their service with NYSO. She made no mention to herself despite the inspiration she provided for the youth.

Kathy, as active member of the Voices of the Valley Storytelling Guild, inspired other guild members to participate in NYSO.

Contribution to National Storytelling Network
For several years, Kathy was a Board Member for the Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance that is now simply called Youth, Educators, and Storytellers. She dislikes email and technology such as conference calls, yet she overcomes these feelings and
accomplishes the assignments asked.

Her ability to share storytelling within the curriculum earned her the honor of workshop presenter at the 2006 National Storytelling YES! Pre-Conference.  After her presentation, she created a website specially to help other educators translate ideas to lesson plans that included storytelling.  She commented, “People from the education community want to learn how to tell.  They need lessons!”

One of NSN’s well-established programs, Tellabration!, had great influence upon Kathy as she was the first one to have a student-run one in the country.  Even today, she has one of the largest-attended youth Tellabration!.  Kevin Cordi mentioned that if it wasn’t for Kathy’s model, that his own student-run Tellabration! would not have been as successful. For many years, Kathy and Kevin combined efforts and the Lemoore High School and the Hanford High School created quite the show.

Yes, this was a while back, though I got to attend the 2006 Tellabration that Kathy’s students used the theme of “First Jobs—On Our Own”.  Students shared stories of jobs they held in fast food, outdoor jobs, and odd jobs.  Personal and family tales were encouraged as Kathy reflected, “[The students] had a blast.  We created interview questions for parents and grandparents.  We had one little girl sing as part of her story to welcome her step-father into the family.”

In the end, Kathy admitted, “I can give them guidance, but [the youth] are the ones finding the stories.”

Contribution to Local Community
Beyond Tellabration!, Kathy ran the Arne Nixon Student Storytelling Festival, which would have celebrated its 25th year on March 28, 2020 before the historic lockdown throughout the world. I had the honor of being part of this event for 16 of those 25 years by mentoring her students and teaching teachers how to use storytelling in the classroom in all subjects.  With permission from the Estate of Arne Nixon, the event started as a competition rather than a festival.  The youth divided into small groups.  Each group had an adult mentor who evaluated the performances with positive comments.  The youth were evaluated though never judged.  Afterwards, the youth shared their stories for the public on the University of California—Fresno campus.

To reward the youth for their progress in storytelling, Kathy saw that there were plenty of volunteers to provide refreshments as well as the traditional pizza party.  She extended invitations to the youth of many schools including Kings Christian, University Middle School and Hanford West High School.  Even college classes came from her efforts.

Kathy always wished to see more kids involved in the Arne Nixon event rather than focus on the competition.  She understood the need for competition to reach out to the youth, though she brainstormed ways that could be as powerful to attract the youth.

When the National Youth Storytelling Olympics returned to Tennessee, the Arne Nixon event added afternoon workshop sessions for educators of all grades.  The workshops focused on how storytelling can meet the curriculum standards.  Kathy often said to the teachers, “Storytelling is part of who we are.  Voice, body, mind, imagination—those are our instruments.  We perform every day.”

Some of the many people affected by Kathy Palermo’s work on the Arne Nixon Student Storytelling Festival are the following:  Laurie Goodman, Randel McGee, Ted Esquivel,  Terrance McArthur and Rick Rossiter as well as the youth.  Many Voices of the Valley Storytelling Guild members say that Arne Nixon touched the Education Department and the Madden Library of Fresno State and anyone in the Visalia Library.  When Kathy upheld his memory through this event, she has touched the same people.

Kathy’s Work has expanded Public Awareness of Storytelling. Whenever Kathy teaches one of her storytelling classes at the Lemoore High School, she has increased the awareness of storytelling.  Part of her class includes service with the surrounding  schools, senior centers, and many other community venues.  Some of her students do not
understand the class until the volunteer work.  One time, her students told at SCI-CON  (Science Conference) that focused on the environment.  Besides telling scary stories and hiking stories, they taught games that the people could use.

She has little administration support from the school as well as a small budget.  Mainly from her funds, she has added to the storytelling collection at her high school.  She laughed when she told me that often her kids go the Lemoore High School Library before going to the public library.

Kathy, when thinking of her students, said, “[The students] think [the class] is an easy A, but they really have to work a performance.  A lot of my kids like to write in third-person.  It’s great if they use dialogue and other storytelling elements.  Otherwise, it’s too bland.”

Low income is prevalent among many of her migrant students.  Again, she has often given students money to attend storytelling events or other storytelling privileges.

California still experiences bad economy and many school programs are stripped.  Yet, Kathy’s class has been amplified in her school due to the direct connection to literacy.
She has had several calls from the California Bay area to start storytelling programs during school time.

At a time when art programs are being cut, the word about Kathy’s work in Lemoore has spread.  Twenty-three California State Universities and ten Universities of California accept Storytelling as an English elective for college admittance.  Only Kathy can be credited with such a fantastic response from the community.

Kathy’s Originality and Preservation of Storytelling as Traditional Art Form
Time, money, and sleep are all things Kathy is willing to give to others, including myself.  Though Kathy had an early morning flight to return to California and had to wake up by 4:30am, she attended the 2006 National Storytelling Conference “Academics Can Tell, Too” concert, which started at 9:30pm.  She came to support me and willingly gave up sleep to cheer me on. I know she does this same feat for anyone who she knows is in need of support.

To this day, she offers her services to promote storytelling around the world.

Please join in the celebration of her continued work.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to Kathy Palermo!

Remember, Story Crossroads also have year-round events such as the house concerts to be transitioned into live/virtual with limited-seating and proper distancing.  We are also in countdown to our Story Crossroads Spectacular-virtual  experience on May 13, 2020.  Give back to Story Crossroads by donating through the #GivingTuesday Facebook Fundraiser from May 5, 2020 to May 19, 2020.

Cap’s Off to You!-Denise Valentine (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Denise ValentineFeaturing:  Denise Valentine (Posthumously)

Story Mama, Historical Teller and Chautauqua Extraordinaire, Keeper of Traditions

Denise Valentine – Story Mama – had much to share around the world as museums, libraries, and schools opened their doors to her.  She said, “My purpose is to build storytelling skills, tools and techniques needed to: reclaim their ancestral names and homeland, reclaim their stories and the authority to become the “storyholders” in their communities.”  She traveled to South Africa and studied folklore traditions and then jumped to Jamaica and performed for festivals there.  She often welcomed her audiences in more than one language and got people dancing before even getting to the stories.  She delighted in being a member of the National Association of Black Storytellers and was also part of a delegation in connection with the National Storytelling Network.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADenise was 60 years old when a heart attack came upon her, and a message went out for extra prayers.  Our family sent out prayers as many all over did.  Then, I learned that on March 22, 2020, Denise had passed on.  I remembered those last hugs when Denise took the plane at the end of our 2018 Story Crossroads Festival.  For most of the time, she was herself and at the very end of it all, she became Sojourner Truth.  She sang with that lovely voice of hers and thrilled my heart in wanting to know the words of that song as well as she did.

Now a Denise Moment:

When Denise Valentine from Pennsylvania came for the 3rd Annual Story Crossroads Festival, we had her stand and be recognized by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (since renamed as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square).  She specialized in West African stories of her ancestry.  Amazingly, the Choir also recognized the President and Board with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Beyond the Broadcast, the Choir did the negro national anthem.  Denise was moved to tears.  We both got to shake hands with the President of the NAACP, who was interested in Denise’s work and she invited him and the Board to the Festival.  The Salt Lake Chapter said they would post it on their webpage.  Later that same day, Denise mentioned to me that she is Buddhist and felt that Utah was such a welcoming place of all cultures.


Then, the next day was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune that I shared with Denise so we could reflect on those lovely memories:



More Impressions with Denise:

The Utah Cultural Celebration Center block-booked Denise Valentine on behalf of Redwood Elementary in the Granite School District.  I watched as the 4th-6th graders ate up all her words.  When Denise announced her time was up, the students all groaned, “No!”  When I checked in with the principal later, she said that this outreach performance in the morning was so impactful that she heard kids still talking about Denise at lunchtime.


Another Snippet:

We invited many congressmen to the Story Crossroads Festival. Mia Love was in Washington D.C. though sent Mike Squires on her behalf.  This representative said he fell in love after the first words spoken by Denise Valentine.  He was convinced to linger longer and also experienced our self-led Story Walk and was “adopted” by an elementary class for that activity.

May 23, 2018--Denise Valentine Performing, taken by Suzanne Hudson

Learning Moment:

I was privileged to attend a 5-hour Intensive Workshop led by Denise Valentine entitled “Walking in Their Shoes: Living History and Storytelling.”  We met in the home of one of our Board Members and enjoyed a heart-to-heart on why we delve into historical pieces in the first place.  She taught a process that she called “unforgetting and reconnecting.”  She had a skill with archival materials such as maps, plantations diaries, and oral histories.  As she studied these items, she connected odd coincidences of people, places, and objects.  Then, she expanded this further to parallel the past with the present.  It was mind-boggling stuff and I wish I could remember all the fascinating details she tumbled out of her mouth.  Obviously, I already understood and experienced extreme research when telling historical tales.  Though, taking the time to delve deeper—whether it made it to stage or not—can affect how you perceive and take meaning from the world around you.

What Now?:

I wish to honor Denise Valentine more so than this blog post.  Tossing around in my mind is the possibility of having a Zoom Panel to honor her as well as feature historical/Chautauqua tales and why we as humans are drawn to presenting in this way.  This is still in brainstorm mode, though any details will be shared through Facebook and our website.  We will likely use a Zoom Webinar where people can register for free and then be given the link after that registration.

The news of Denise Valentine’s passing is still fresh for me and I want to have the blessing of her family before anything is set in stone.

Remember…Death is not the end.  We miss her here, though Death is the beginning of her new adventure.  I know she is making those unforgettable connections and having people drop their jaws at her discoveries there.  I can imagine a reunion with her friends and family who have gone before and also a special visit from Sojourner Truth herself.  I picture her singing, too.  Now “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” will have even greater meaning to me.  I look forward to when we all see each other again.

Where You Can Hear Her:



We do have footage of her performing and presenting through Story Crossroads, though this will take time as we want to go through her family before anything is available.

I appreciate Denise for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and her authentic and beautiful spirit of love.

Denise still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.