StoryUp your Artifact – Open Space Session Harvest

The team on StoryAtelier hosted a session during our open space. "StoryUp your Artifact" took advantage of the exhibition "ShareThis" which took place in our conference venue. They invited participants to join them in contemplating the artworks through the lense of the heroes journey and build a short movie around it. Enjoy:

To learn a bit more about the beautiful minds behind this, we conducted a short interview with Astrid Nierhoff and Mélina Garibyan, the founders of StoryAtelier.

BST: What is the StoryAtelier and what are you doing?

Mélina: StoryAtelier is a social business dedicated to storytelling. We facilitate group workshops to find, tell and craft personal stories with a special focus on digital storytelling. We also conceptualize other projects and events with storytelling.

BST: What is the story behind StoryAtelier? Where does your interest for (virtual) storytelling come from?

Mélina: StoryAtelier started with a call. Both a phone call and a call for something bigger, deeply human and sustainable. I had been working for years as a communication designer in renowned agencies, when I left in order to work with my husband who had just founded his own enterprise. In my first job, I had often lacked a deeper sense of what I was doing. In my second one, my creativity wasn’t triggered as much as I was longing for. I have always loved experiencing with creative techniques and technology and was an active blogger and digitalist. I barely knew Astrid from our children’s Kindergarden when she called me. She exposed quite a bold idea of a social storytelling agency and asked me right away if I would partner up with her. My first move was to think: What?! This is crazy! But my second move was to say: Great and crazy enough, I’m in! We founded StoryAtelier in September 2015 and have been growing our passion and expertise for digital techniques and storytelling ever since.

Astrid: My first igniting moment for digital storytelling was in 2005, during a summer trip to the US west-coast. At this time I was a Phd-Student in Literature and Arts and visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York. My trip was starting with a 3-days Workshop at the Center for Digital Storytelling (now Story Center) in Berkeley. I was immediately caught by the sheer expressive and transformational power of this tool and knew I wouldn’t let that go any more. In the years afterwards, I deepened my interest for storytelling methods and eventually applied them in my work. First as university lecturer, later as publicist in history marketing and intercultural consultant. Then, in 2011, life jumped on to me. My mother got diagnosed with Alzheimers at age 55. Four years later, which felt like decades of deep dive into the cores of our humanity, I decided to create StoryAtelier but didn’t want to be alone. This is when Mélina, whose qualities and talents I had an intuition of, came into my mind…

BST: What did you do in the Open Space Session? And how did the participants react?

Astrid: We did something quite simple and intuitive. We asked people to focus on one single piece of art they chose within an exhibit. We then paired this observation with a storytelling task. In the Open Space Session the observers had to randomly pick one of twelve steps of the heroe's journey and tell a personal story about it. Since stories are shaped by the context in which they are told and the art piece changes with each observer, we relied on this mutual fertilization. The result is one single heroe's journey co-created by twelve different stories. It’s up to some point comparable with the French surrealist’s collective game „exquisite corpse“.

Mélina: The group was very active and responsive during the session. I reckon one storyteller saying later that usually contemporary art doesn't reach him. But there, staying still in front of a wrapped chair, observing and interrogating it with his task in mind, the chair started speaking. Stories began to emerge and the group seemed truly connected to the very moment they were experiencing.

BST: What are the current projects you are working on? 

Mélina: besides developing regular interventions in schools and senior housing, we work on some specific projects: A broad city storytelling project based in Cologne, a project around Alzheimer's and Sports and an intercultural competence training paired with digital storytelling in an enterprise which is part of a network aiming at employing and integrating refugees.

Astrid: this last project allowed us to design a modular training for enterprises and organizations. We are now in the process of creating a second structure where we can focus on missions around corporate culture, diversity and social sustainability. People will also find us teaching at the Volkshochschule in Cologne.

Mélina: But we are also very active in the social media scene and love participating in barcamps. Once a month we organize a #DemokratieChat, where people are invited to answer 8 questions around democracy. We love to try out new things. I would also love to organize public StoryCircles…

Astrid: Can we already reveal something? In 2018 we are actually organizing a StoryCamp in Cologne. We’ll keep you updated.

You can learn more about their activities here: