About this project
A cloud gathers on the horizon, darkening a sunny day. A sense of expectation hangs in the air. A storm wind from the wrong direction could mean real danger, even death. We scramble to batten everything down and prepare for the worst.
The work we do with the Secret History of American River People has never been more important. At a time when underprivileged voices are being silenced, it is critical that these stories be heard.
We are trying to raise $5000 to collect lost stories along the Sacramento River, plus $2600 for a new outboard for the shantyboat. Your support is critical.
We are trying to reach one thousand new supporters this year, so even as little as $1 helps meet our goal.
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. While the river is closer to home this time, there are still ambitious plans we have for the project off the river.
Thanks for making a Secret History of American River People possible.
How We Got Here
Four years ago, with a thirst for art, personal stories, and DIY adventure, I conceived of a crazy project to float down major American rivers in a homemade shantyboat and collect the personal narratives of people in vanishing river communities.Since we launched our untested boat on the Mississippi River, we've traveled over 1000 river miles, conducted 85 oral history interviews spanning several hundred hours, exhibited dozens of times, and talked to thousands of people about the river.
Thanks to your support, our previous Kickstarter journeys over the last three years were successfully funded. Despite fantastic odds the journeys were successfully completed!
Thanks to you, we have shared these stories over the web and on social media and in talks with school-age kids, college and high school students, and museum audiences across the country.
Year after year, this project continues to excite me. These archives telling otherwise untold personal narratives are a significant contribution to American history with wide-reaching significance to people living and searching for solutions to shared challenges in river communities elsewhere on the continent.
Where We're Going
After three years on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers, the shantyboat returns "home" to the Sacramento River winding its way through the California Central Valley with fieldwork and exhibitions in towns along the way. We have a month-long Secret History exhibition in the historic Sacramento History Museum.
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.
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 largely rustic reclaimed materials.
This year we are upgrading to a new and reliable outboard motor for the shantyboat, after muddling by with antique outboard motors for many years. Roughly a third of our kickstarter will be to underwrite the cost of the new motor, half of which is being donated by a major manufacturer.
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.
Life on the shantyboat is cozy but comfortable. We have a full kitchen, a bed loft, a work table, a comfortable couch, and a library full of river adventures, reference books, art books, and trashy novels to pass the time. Pretty much everything we need.
In our free time, we sit on the decks of the shantyboat and play banjo and watch the sky and the river.
Meeting people who work and live on the river, I continue to collect a digital archive of personal histories — the lost stories of river people, river communities, and the river itself, including the personal chronicle of our ongoing adventure.
We've talked to farmers and fishermen, wildlife biologists and water experts, people raised poor in shanty boats 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 don't make the dominant historical narrative.
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 12 thousand people regularly follow the project.
We are trying to raise $7600 before June 4th to bring the shantyboat to the Sacramento 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 as you can see, your support is critical. With underwriters supporting half the cost of the new motor, crowdsourcing will be about a third of our funding this year. The rest of the project budget comes from expected grants and from the artist's contribution to the project.
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 - This year's goal is to add ONE THOUSAND new supporters. 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 - Hundreds of people follow our adventures by email. Your thanks goes out to our most diehard fans.
Outfit The Shantyboat - $10 or more - Your modest contribution to the campaign plus select 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.
A Hand-Scrawled Drunk Postcard from the River - $25 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 - $50 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. See the photo in the Rewards section to the left.
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. See the photo in the rewards section to the left.
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.
Underwrite 1/5 Of the New Shantyboat Motor - $500 or more - This is a special reward only for those who are willing to underwrite part of the cost of the new shantyboat motor after the murder of Freddie, our trusty Mercury outboard. Plus we will send you a poster or a t-shirt.
How the Money is Spent
This year, the project has an ambitious $21K budget with $5000 coming from crowdsourcing, and an additional $2600 underwriting for the new outboard. Most of that goes toward fieldwork and shantyboat maintenance.
It is always our goal to pay the artists and crew, but we seldom bring in enough to more than pay our basic expenses.
More Information and Updates
If you support the project, you will get regular project updates (Last year we posted 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, 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
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