Story Flag Exhibit
Since October of 2008, the It’s Our Story (IOS) Story Flag has been a centerpiece and topic of discussion at a myriad of disability events across America, from United Nations events to national conferences to community celebrations.
This American flag, comprised of faces and feathers that illustrate a diverse community, highlights the ability of people with disabilities to rally, inspire, and advocate for their rights. The flag’s 800 individually crafted Native American “story sticks” have supported disability advocates at state legislation rallies in California, Washington, and Idaho. Through public displays of the Story Flag as an educational tool, IOS has introduced thousands of high school and college students—from California to Kansas to Philadelphia—to the legacy of the disability community.
The Story Flag has been assembled at America’s first independent living center in Berkeley, has celebrated the Fourth of July next to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and has unfurled for White Cane Day in Eugene, Oregon. It has witnessed our community network in grand ballrooms throughout the country, hosted by such organizations as the American Association of People with Disabilities, Mississippi’s Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, and the National Disability Rights Network.
Built to Celebrate Our Story
The Story Flag honors the American experience and has framed the keynote speeches of national leaders for The Arc in Albuquerque, TASH in Nashville, and the National Council on Independent Living in Washington, DC. Please consider hosting this astounding work of art as part of your next event. The Story Flag’s tribute to the art of dialogue and to the importance of community reminds us all to continue telling, recording, and sharing our stories with everyone who is willing to listen.
Freeing Our Voice
Since 2005, the mission of It’s Our Story (IOS) has been to document the ongoing journey of the disability community, and to make the insights of its leaders accessible to all via the Internet. To date, IOS has visited over 200 locations across America and has collected more than 1,300 video histories.
Our first 30 recorded voices are available for view on YouTube, and have whet public appetite for the 20,000 clips that still await online distribution. Our team is currently hard at work, culling through the video histories and finding ways to making them captioned, keyword-searchable and easily navigated by any curious visitor. We invite you to visit the IOS YouTube channel.
Merging Yesterday with Today
Symbolically, the Story Flag merges our past with our future by connecting our modern faces to ancient tools of free speech and storytelling. The flag’s “story sticks”, which represent the intricate and unique lives of our community members, are similar to those originally used by colonies of Native Americans. The story stick tradition, which encourages members of a community to better understand each other through shared experience, is in direct alignment with the aim of the IOS project and embodies a spirit of inclusion and companionship. By better understanding the lives of others, we resolve conflicts more easily and improve opportunities for everyone..
It is no mistake that the Story Flag is composed of a stunning array of feathers. In the early days of America, a feather penned the Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. Egypt worshipped Ma’at, the goddess of truth and order, through use of a feather. Persia, India and Greece all celebrate the Phoenix, a legendary firebird that routinely reduced itself to ashes, only to be reborn anew. Europeans have been inspired by feathered angels, terrified by swooping dragons and mystified by winged fairies—and the Thunderbird reigned supreme in many Native American cultures long before our European forefathers settled on our soil.
As one stands, sits, or glides by the front of the Story Flag—a gigantic, feathered homage to the disability community—the display sparkles with small portraits of each person whose story is recorded in the IOS archive. In the presence of the Story Flag, one cannot help but feel the power, passion, and pride that have come to enrich a powerful community. For many people with disabilities, the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts, a fact that the Story Flag immediately makes evident.
Looking Deeply, Listening Deeper
Upon close inspection, the Story Flag reveals to its viewer images of disability icons—those who gathered in front of government buildings and institutions and led national legislation. Other photos on the Story Flag reveal local champions whose strong advocacy never went beyond the county line but who changed a school district from worst to first in the eyes and lives of people with disabilities.
Five hundred and forty-eight small portraits intertwine and dangle on the Story Flag, among a sea of woven, beaded, and feathered story sticks. As a pain-stakingly detailed work of art, the Story Flag reminds us of the unity that is required in the pursuit of social progress. Each small portrait on the Story Flag represents 100,000 people living with a disability in America.
The red silk strips of the Story Flag alternate with white stripes that collectively boast 2,500 feathers. Each feathered stripe is accented by an enormous sheet of shimmering white silk, resulting in an effect that creates flowing shadows to attract and hold the eye. The Story Flag’s layers, weaves and shadows are designed to show the complexities of the disability experience. All too often, people with disabilities are stared at with confusion, are looked through as if invisible, or are avoided rather than understood. The Story Flag presents this unfortunate truth as a visual conundrum, while the It’s Our Story (IOS) project seeks to publish the ultimate peer-to-peer database through which viewers might find comfort and solutions.
Seeing Beyond the Layers
The red silk strips on both sides of the Flag’s “story sticks”, which float suspended on thin wire grids, add additional texture and dimension to the Flag-viewing experience. Feathers, beads, silk, shadow, and handles woven from leather unite in a display of craftsmanship that is sure to draw awe and engagement from any audience. The longer a viewer gazes at the Story Flag, the more layers he is likely to see. This odyssey of “seeing beyond a glance” is vital when appreciating disability.
Once a viewer becomes transfixed by the Story Flag—and becomes interested in seeing each of its feathers, its beads, its weaves—he will begin to notice that each of these small elements is different from the next. The faces of the It’s Our Story (IOS) interview subjects, peppered across the Story Flag, add to the display’s unusual dynamism. Viewers begin to ask questions of themselves and others: “Who’s that? Where’s he from? What did he do?”. The thousands of trinkets that populate the Story Flag represent the 10,000 video clips that 546 interviewed voices have collectively produced. Ten thousand little beads of wisdom, and their 10,000 corresponding video clips, have been added since the original completion of the Story Flag.
The Message Simplified
The powerful message of the Story Flag is that life can be as overwhelmingly beautiful or as complex and as challenging as we each wish to make it. On the Story Flag, as in life, details may distract us, please us, confuse us, and consume us. Whatever the momentary emotional response inspired by the Story Flag, an ability to stand back, relax and refocus allows us to view an entirely different picture of ourselves and of others.
Never Too Late to Adapt
Though very similar to the American flag, the It’s Our Story (IOS) Story Flag features one extra stripe—one which is meant to represent the original colony of Native Americans. By including this oft-unsung group in its representation of the American experience, the Story Flag shows us all that it is never too late to make things right through public acknowledgment.
As people with disabilities, we are empowered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990—legislation that was spurred forward by many of the faces on the Story Flag and in the IOS video archive.
These projects are transforming the ancient power of community, much of which is now taking new forms on the Internet, to better serve us in a brighter future by making our lessons and our lives more easily understood by all.
Your Story Matters
The spirit of the ADA—enriched by the “beads of wisdom” that populate the Story Flag—champions our right and responsibility to be included in all aspects of the American dream. IOS looks forward to aligning our vision with yours by adding the art of the Story Flag to your event.
The installation fee for the IOS “Story Flag” is $1,000.00 plus travel expenses or $750.00 with a Video History session included.