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Conserve, steward, and advocate for the unique rural landscape of the Eastern Shore.

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Productive Dialogue with “Let’s Be Shore”

Please enjoy a guest blog from Maryland Humanities Council:

Can Productive Dialogue Set the Tone for Solutions? The “Let’s Be Shore” Project Wants to Jumpstart Conversation

by Michele Baylin, Maryland Humanities Council Communications Manager

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.

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. “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.

The EPA expects Bay jurisdictions to work with local leaders and partners to identify county Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to meet interim water quality goals.  But as we all know, 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.

“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.

Last fall, Beth Barbush, MHC’s “Let’s Be Shore” Project Manager, teamed up with award-winning documentary filmmaker Doug Sadler (“Swimmers”), conducting 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.

Watch a video portrait of Tom Leigh and Drew Koslow, Riverkeepers and share your view!

Along with the launch of www.letsbeshore.org in June, MHC is bringing “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 Maryland 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 reaching organizations, bloggers, and other interested groups, to encourage the distribution of videos to their constituencies.

“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. That’s the first step.”  – Project Manager Beth Barbush

In September and October, 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 mediators from the Maryland Association of Conflict Resolution Office.

Join the conversation!  To receive email notifications of upcoming Let’s Be Shore events, join their mailing list online.

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