Projects - Detroit River Story Lab

Project Areas

The Detroit River Story Lab partners with regional organizations to support narrative infrastructure projects along the Detroit River corridor. We use the term “narrative infrastructure” to refer to the fabric of shared stories that binds a community together as well as to the many ways such stories are shared, circulated, and amplified within and beyond a group or locality. Investing in narrative infrastructure, then, means elevating and celebrating community stories–especially those traditionally marginalized–and supporting projects that incorporate them into our understanding of places and our attachments to them.

The Story Lab focuses on three overlapping components of narrative infrastructure:  place-based education,  community heritage, and non-profit journalism. In each of these areas, we work alongside partner organizations to help gather, contextualize, and share out river-related stories in ways that align with community priorities and activate riverside locations as sites of connection, stewardship, and healing. 

Place-Based Education

The Story Lab works with public schools, youth organizations, and community heritage groups to develop river-themed curricular and extra-curricular programming opportunities that incorporate hands-on learning experiences to help local students reconnect with their river, recognize in the river the source of their own communities’ heritage, and find inspiration in the river and its stories for their own future educational and career pursuits. Ongoing projects include summer boatbuilding and school-ship programs, a middle school curriculum on the local history of the Underground Railroad, and high school teaching resources on climate change and the carbon economy in the Detroit River corridor. For more information about the principles that guide our collaborative projects and the kinds of support we are able to provide, see the Educational Project Partnerships page.

Community Heritage

Inspired by longstanding local efforts to resurface submerged stories along the river corridor, the Story Lab collaborates on site-specific projects that help to advance these efforts. By providing material, logistical, and research support for oral histories, exhibits, interpretive installations, site designations, and public events that make visible and accessible the river’s many layers of cultural and environmental heritage, the Story Lab promotes environmental stewardship, place-based identity, and regional integration. Current collaborations include interpretive signage for the Gordie Howe Bridge, oral history interviews on Belle Isle, and design work on a planned Wyandot cultural center near Gibraltar.

Nonprofit Journalism

The vitality of local journalism ecosystems correlates directly with the strength of community identity and the health of civil society. When this crucial component of narrative infrastructure breaks down, disengagement and corruption tend to follow, along with a shift in citizens’ attention away from local issues towards those playing out on an ever-more polarized national stage. The Story Lab sponsors student internships with nonprofit news organizations, such as Bridge Detroit, Planet Detroit, and Detroit Public Television, to assist thinly stretched staff in the coverage of river-related stories and works with partners to develop new local training opportunities, on campus and in the community, for both student and citizen journalists.

More information about the Story Lab’s collaborations in each of these project areas can be found on the Work Products page.

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