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Let’s Be Shore Video Portraits engage residents along Maryland’s Eastern Shore

August 5, 2012 | By Michele Baylin, Maryland Humanities Council

How can watching a video create better stewardship of our watershed?  The Maryland Humanities Council’s (MHC) Practicing Democracy project, “Let’s Be Shore,” is using the humanities to connect with Eastern Shore residents, inform them about their county watershed implementation plans (WIPs), and bring people with divergent perspectives together for civic discourse. “Let’s Be Shore” offers a space for dialogue and listening, so that residents may explore issues of land use and sustainability along the Shore.

Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) offer a framework for cleaning up the Bay.  In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set limits on the amount of nutrients and sediments that can enter the Chesapeake Bay, known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), requiring Bay states to develop plans to reach benchmarks for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments which impair water quality. The EPA expects Bay jurisdictions to work with local leaders and partners to identify county plans to be implemented no later than 2017 to meet interim water quality goals. But the Chesapeake Bay watershed is diverse and land use varies widely between Maryland’s upper, mid, and lower shore counties. Residents are keenly aware of their personal relationship to and responsibility for the area’s natural resources, but stakeholders are often at odds about how to move forward.

In 2011, MHC’s Practicing Democracy program was honored with the Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize for using the humanities to tackle local critical issues such as hydraulic fracturing, cultural diversity, and land use. In 2012, Practicing Democracy focuses its efforts on the Shore.

“We seek to be a neutral convener, not to change people’s values or opinions, but rather to foster a respect and understanding, enabling communities to come together for civil dialogue,” says Executive Director Phoebe Stein Davis.

Beth Barbush, MHC’s “Let’s Be Shore” Project Manager teamed up with award-winning documentary filmmaker Doug Sadler (“Swimmers”), conducting about thirty audio interviews on the subject of water quality along the Bay. Audio transcripts were reviewed by a panel of Shore residents, who helped to identify eight video portrait subjects representative of different stakeholders, from an oysterman to a poultry farmer, developer to environmentalist, all providing their unique perspectives. Now MHC is asking for the public to share their viewpoints via comments on a micro-site, www.letsbeshore.org.

Along with the launch of the website in June, MHC brought “sharing stations” to area farmer’s markets, fairs, festivals, and other public events along the Shore. At sharing stations, residents can learn about water quality issues and are encouraged to listen to or read their neighbors’ views via video and audio transcripts, and then respond with comments online or on comment cards. Additionally, staff conducted presentations to key targeted groups, such as the Statewide Farm Bureau, the Maryland Department of Planning, lower shore environmental groups, and youth summer camps. Social media efforts are not only engaging the general public, but also are targeting organizations, bloggers, and other groups, to encourage the aggregation of video portraits. Engagement continues to grow online, with over 1,000 video views and more than 4,200 visits to www.letsbeshore.org in less than two months.

“Video portraits offer a very personal view of residents’ connection to the water, the challenges faced, the need to find common ground, and the search for solutions. When we listen to and experience our neighbors’ feelings about the future of the Shore’s heritage and landscape, we may also learn a little bit about ourselves—film can be an effective tool for reflection, creating an open space for dialogue.” - Project Manager Beth Barbush 

This fall, MHC’s “Let’s Be Shore” project’s public phase will culminate with a series of three distinct public dialogue events, planned with local partners on the lower, mid, and upper Shore, each featuring a unique shared humanities experience and moderated by the Maryland Association of Conflict Resolution Officers. Join the conversation! To learn more, visit www.letsbeshore.org, follow along on Facebook or Twitter @MDHumanities #LetsBeShore, #WIPs.

Click here to view the eight "Let's Be Shore" video portraits.