December 2022

West Baltimore Neighbors Swap Stories

December 27, 2022    |  

On Dec. 2, the culminating event of a social experiment came together at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Community Engagement Center (CEC). In front of a small audience of West Baltimore neighbors, three Baltimore-based visual and performing artists shared their work as part of the Sowebo Story Swap.

The Sowebo Story Swap is a workshop conceived and developed by University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) graduate student Kristin Putchinski in a partnership program with UMBC, UMB, and the CEC. The workshop consists of a series of four meetings between six neighbors who are paired by age. Each pairing includes a senior citizen and a young individual who met over the course of one month to share personal stories about themselves and their neighborhoods. These sessions are facilitated using photographs, songs, and other storytelling prompts that hold personal meaning to the storyteller. Putchinski says this exercise is meant to create a special bond between community members who otherwise would never have met.

“Personal storytelling and story ‘receiving’ in this manner proves to be a powerful catalyst for platonic intimacy between strangers, with the potential to create strong neighborly bonds,” she explained.

The audio from these swapped stories was recorded and given to three local artists to interpret through an artistic medium. The artwork included visual art such as paintings and performance art such as slam poetry.

The community participants say the experience was emotional and eye-opening. Putchinski hopes to continue this partnership with UMB and grow the workshop within the CEC.