A rustic recreated mid-century shantyboat, a series of daring river voyages, and a meticulous archive of river stories are all part of a multi-year art and history project, A Secret History of American River People.
We are trying to raise $8000 to collect forgotten stories along the Hudson River, and stage a major exhibition in New York City. Your support is critical.
There are lots of ways to support the project so check out the website. But if you can give your financial support, every little bit helps. A road trip across North America, fieldwork on the historic Hudson River, a half dozen pop-up exhibitions and a major show in New York are all part of our ambitious plan for this year.
Thanks for making a Secret History of American River People possible.
How We Got Here
For more than a decade, I have been building watercraft and floating down major rivers with my collaborators. The small river communities we visited were frequently ghost towns that had turned their backs to the river and recentered near the highway and the Walmart. Larger towns that were reestablishing a connection with the river were rapidly gentrifying, erasing generations of river culture. I built a homemade shantyboat to explore major American rivers to understand these contemporary conflicts and preserve the heritage of river life.
Every summer since 2014, I've embarked on epic journeys to discover, record, present, and connect the personal narratives of river people. Visitors step onto the shantyboat into another world where they can pick up the banjo or a book, sit awhile and overhear stories of river people, or share their own stories.
This project inspires deep wonder and connects meaningfully with people's personal histories. We've done fieldwork on the Mississippi River, the Tennessee, the Sacramento, and with your help, this year on New York's Hudson River.
The project is in its fifth year, has traveled over 1250 river miles and 20,000 miles by land, and has been featured in numerous articles and 15 exhibitions. I've conducted over 100 interviews and talked to thousands of people about the river.
Thanks to your support, our previous Kickstarter journeys over the last four years were successfully funded. Despite fantastic odds the voyages were successfully completed.
Year after year, this project continues to excite me. These archives telling otherwise untold personal narratives are a significant contribution to American history. They have wide-reaching significance to people living and searching for solutions to shared challenges in river communities elsewhere on the continent.
Where We're Going
This year we are traveling across country to New York's historic Hudson River with fieldwork and exhibitions in towns along the way. We have a month-long Secret History exhibition at WhiteBox Art Space in Lower Manhattan.
This summer we are expanding the exhibition to include a large installation of photographs and video from the project, participatory elements, and new media that allows visitors to overhear interviews and ambient sounds from the river.
I am currently working on a research archive and the first volume of a book series, with other projects planned, including collaborations with other artists, and short and feature documentaries. Plus, the project exhibits regularly at galleries and museums across the country.
We are also doing a series of pop-up exhibition on the river in four historic river towns. While the artist and shantyboat are in town, the public is invited to visit during open hours at the nearby waterfront. Visitors may step inside the boat, explore, hear stories, and leave their river stories for the archive.
Join us for any of our exhibitions on the Hudson River:
- May 26 - Felton Remembers Parade, Felton CA
June 1-2 - Ebb & Flow, Tannery Art Center, Santa Cruz CA
- July 1 - Yacht Basin, Fort Edward, NY with the World Awareness Children's Museum
- July 5-7 City of Waterford, NY
- July 13-15 Hudson River Maritime Museum, Kingston, NY
- July 19-21 Haverstraw, NY with the River Arts Fund & Haverstraw Brick Musuem
- July & Aug - Whitebox Art Space, Lower East Side, NYC
- July & Aug - Waterfront Museum, Brooklyn, NY
In 2012, I began building the Secret History shantyboat. Inspired by historical accounts of shantyboaters on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, I lovingly recreated a traditional wooden-hulled barge-bottom houseboat with the help of friends over two years out of rustic reclaimed materials.
The shantyboat is the centerpiece of the project as well as where we live and work while we are on the river. The people that we meet consistently tell us that the shantyboat draws them to the project. Did you make this? people always ask, I've always dreamed of doing this. People recognize that we are connecting to both a bygone era and river life today.
We've talked to farmers and fishermen, wildlife biologists and water experts, people raised poor in shantyboats on the river, people who remember the river when it was wild and dangerous, people who remember their family history going back five generations before emancipation, people living openly gay or transgender lives in tiny rural towns, people living under bridges whose lives have been shattered by addiction or alcoholism.
We've talked to people descendent of the first people on the continent who've made the river their home for untold generations, and people who have lived within sight of the river every day of their lives. We seek out these people whose stories aren't typically included in the dominant historical narrative.
This year we are already making connections with people who live in historic towns in the Hudson Valley, people whose parents and grandparents were part of the largely African-American communities who worked in brick-making towns that supplied New York City as it was built.
Through all the fieldwork, I've used the project website and social media to share stories, photographs, and video to connect river people with those far from the river. Over 80 thousand people regularly follow the project.
We are trying to raise $8000 to bring the shantyboat to the Hudson River and work our way downriver collecting stories for the archive. Your support makes this project work.
Crowdsourcing makes up more than a quarter of the Secret History budget, so your support is critical. The rest of the project budget comes from expected grants and from the artist's contribution to the project.
UPDATE: We did not receive the foundation grants we hoped for and so this Kickstarter will be a critical source of funding for the expedition, even as we cut back on expenses and accept not being paid another year.
Help support our ambitious plans for the project. Every contribution, even small ones are important. Thanks again for making a Secret History possible.
Get Project Updates - $1 or more - Any amount of $1 or more will get an email thank you and updates from the project.
A Thanks in Our Regular Updates - $5 or more - Nearly a thousand people follow our adventures by email. Your thanks goes out to our most diehard fans.
A Selfie Just For You - $10 or more - You send us your number and we text you a unique selfie and/or an inspiring photograph straight from our journey.
Outfit The Shantyboat - $15 or more - Take your modest contribution plus one of the many things we need for the trip from our wishlist at peoplesriverhistory.us/wishlist and have it sent straight to us! We will name it after you, send you a personal thank you, and email you a photo of it installed in the shantyboat.
Your Art in the Shantyboat Gallery - $25 or more - If you send us your art before we depart for New York, we hang it in the shantyboat gallery/head and, in this way, you go along on the trip with us.
A Hand-Scrawled Drunk Postcard from the River - $35 or more - This was our most popular reward over the last several years. We will write you a postcard while we are drunk and traveling on the river. All those hard days of boating and interviewing and long summer evenings of river living. We will drunkenly tell you all about the stuff we'd never tell you when we were sober.
Last-Chance Secret History Poster - $60 or more - The last of these beautiful silkscreened posters made by artist Jake Simowitz. A large print (24" x 16") of his woodcut for the project on beautiful sturdy paper.
Classic Secret History Black Tee - $100 or more - A reprint of this gorgeous black t-shirt made by Jake Simowitz from his shanytboat woodcut print comes in a variety of sizes on quality fitted American Apparel-style Tees.
Permanent Thanks On The Website - $250 or more - You’re not doing it for the reward or for the glory, but we are tremendously grateful for your support and want to highlight your generosity. Plus we will send you a poster or a t-shirt.
Skype or Phone Date From the River - $500 or more - This is a special reward only for those diehard fans of the project who want to offer significant support for the project. Plus we will send you a poster AND a t-shirt.
How the Money is Spent
This year, the project has an ambitious $21K budget with $8000 coming from crowdsourcing,. Most of that goes toward fieldwork and shantyboat maintenance. $3000 goes toward developing the new exhibition in New York City.
It is always our goal to pay the artists and crew, but we seldom bring in enough to more than pay our basic expenses. Your support will help us meet this goal.
More Information and Updates
If you support the project, you will get regular project updates (Each year we post about 50 blog updates and hundreds of photos). If you want to sign up for regular project updates, especially when we are on the river, you can sign up via email, instagram, rss, and twitter on our contact page.
Check out the stories at peoplesriverhistory.us.
Risks and challenges
I am a veteran DIY boater and know from a decade of experience that the challenges and setbacks that you encounter on the river are part of the journey.
The project is an oral history of people's river experiences. This includes my own meta-narrative of the Secret History exhibition. There are the stories that people have to tell, and, as well, there is the story of discovering that story. The people, the places, the blissful days, the heat and humidity and mosquitos, the driving wind and rain, the setbacks. These are all part of the human history that we are all part of making.
Last year, reward fulfillment was mercifully prompt, and we thank you for your patience.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (38 days)