by Andrea Gutmann-Fuentes, Ohio History Service Corps Member, AmeriCorps
For the past several years, the Cincinnati Art Museum has been a host site for the Ohio History Service Corps (OHSC), an AmeriCorps program dedicated to preserving local history across the state of Ohio. Each year, OHSC members are placed with 10 different host sites around Ohio, where we carry out capacity-building services for our host sites and other local history organizations. Some of our projects have included creating volunteer programs, designing exhibits, conducting research, collecting oral histories, and assisting in creating strategic plans for moving organizations forward.
The 2020-2021 service year is my second term with OHSC, but it’s my first with the Cincinnati Art Museum. My first year was spent with Xavier University’s Public History Program. Over the course of my first year, I served on a project in collaboration with the Cincinnati Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, an organization established in 1904 in Walnut Hills that has historically been committed to community service and mutual aid. I worked with Xavier students to research and compile an early history of the organization. We created a database and map of more than 150 early members of the club. We also applied for a State Historic Marker of the CFCWC’s clubhouse on Chapel St, highlighting the Federation’s immense historical impact on Cincinnati’s black community.
Another project I served with was the Women of King Records project, which aims to increase local acknowledgement of and appreciation for the women musicians, composers, and workers at Cincinnati’s King Records. Through this research, I have discovered incredible musicians whose names are mostly unknown, even to Cincinnati music enthusiasts. Vicki Anderson, for example, was a soul and R&B singer who James Brown claimed was the best singer he’d ever worked with. Mary Lou Williams was a jazz pianist who made fundamental contributions to the development of the genre, and who also dedicated much of her life to serving those struggling through poverty and addiction. Ann Jones was the singer, song-writer, guitarist, and front-woman of an all-female band, “The Western Sweethearts,” and was interestingly also the star of an all-girls softball team during the Second World War. Our project comes at a time when many groups around the city are interested in reviving the history of King Records. The old King Records building on Brewster Ave. has recently been purchased by the City of Cincinnati, and plans are underway to restore the space as a community learning center.
In addition to these projects based at my first host site of Xavier University, I have become involved with a number of other local organizations, such as the Cincinnati Fire Museum and the Cincinnati African American Firefighter’s Museum, the Over the Rhine Museum, and the Walnut Hills Historical Society. Some of the projects we’ve worked on together include creating walking tours, implementing sustainable volunteer programs, and a diversity in firefighting oral history project.
My service with the Cincinnati Art Museum this year has focused on listening to the museum’s communities through research, as well as connecting to the museum’s audience through digital programming amidst the pandemic. In order to do this, I’ve been able to leverage my relationships with other Cincinnati historical organizations to foster new collaborations between the Cincinnati Art Museum and its neighbors. I have also been working on developing trainings and remote projects for CAM’s volunteer program as COVID continues to be with us through this new year.
The OHSC is dedicated to practicing “public history” as a foundational principle. This is the idea that history should not only be taken outside of the ivory tower and into the community, but that every person should have access to the tools they need to discover and tell the histories that are important to them.
Before joining OHSC, I was interested in history as an academic discipline, but I had also been involved in service work and community organizing for many years. My experiences organizing throughout college, for example, have shaped my view on what learning through community can look like.
I believe that leadership should be democratic, and that this is achieved by bringing together a group of people with a common goal, and facilitating dynamic discussions that can reveal individual concerns, ideas, and goals, in order to build a collective vision for moving forward. Over my past year with OHSC, I have experienced first-hand what it means to practice “public history”— in my opinion, a perfect union of the ideals I hold (reciprocal exchange, solidarity, and democratic leadership) with history as an academic discipline.
The projects I’ve assisted with during my service have been truly reciprocal and collaborative, involving students, local librarians and archivists, and neighborhood organizations. We’ve worked collectively on conducting research on local Cincinnati history, collecting oral histories, writing new histories from our research, and planning community events in order to share our findings with the public. It is rare for historical research to be done in such a collaborative way among such a diverse group of people, and it is for this reason that I feel truly thankful for my experience with the Ohio History Service Corps.