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Murray Journal

Murray’s Story Crossroads Festival grows during the pandemic

May 26, 2021 01:15PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Youngsters prepare to deliver their stories at the Murray Storyteller Showcase. (Photo courtesy of Story Crossroads Academy)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

While most performing arts had to shutter during the pandemic, the Story Crossroads Festival expanded to include online and international performances. The festival ran May 10-13, virtually and in person at Murray Park.

“In 2020, Story Crossroads had an all-virtual festival that had audiences from each of the six major continents,” Story Crossroads Executive Director Rachel Hedman said. “For 2021, the nonprofit moves forward and declares that every year from now on will be hybrid, using the computer screen as well as venues such as Murray City Park.”

As host of the festival, the Story Crossroads Academy is a nonprofit organization with year-round oral storytelling events and arts education. The festival is their culminating event, featuring 40 youth and seniors sharing the stage with 15 multicultural story artists. This year marks their first hybrid festival of online and in-person.

“We believe the art of storytelling needs to be available to learn for all ages, peoples, and languages. We started the academy with two languages—English and American Sign Language (ASL)—and anticipate adding more languages, hopefully 100 at some point,” Hedman said. “We’ll take it one year at a time. Already, youth and adults from India, the United Kingdom, Italy, and throughout the United States have signed up for the free course.”

Back with its inaugural festival in 2016, the plan was always to live stream and broadcast. That timetable was pushed forward when faced with the pandemic.

“Ever since the 2020 virtual festival, Story Crossroads has been looked upon as a leader of storytelling from Singapore to Canada to here in the states. Meanwhile, the academy is in the works of becoming more than ‘Storytelling Basics in 8 Hours,’ but as possible continuing education for ASL interpreters,” Hedman said.

The academy hosts self-led, online storytelling courses, including the free Storytelling Basics in 8 Hours, complete with American Sign Language, open captioning, and handouts. The course has four modules and 16 lessons and introduces 10 storytelling genres, such as liar’s tale, folktale, fairy tale, personal narrative and historical.

In 2014, Murray City Cultural Arts Director Mary Ann Kirk collaborated with Hedman at a community planning meeting for a Salt Lake County storytelling event. Kirk wanted another opportunity for the youth tellers with the Murray Storytelling Festival to share their stories. Hedman founded the academy, and the festival has expanded ever since.

Story Crossroads is a yearly festival in preparation for the World Story Crossroads kick-off in 2030. Once launched, the World Story Crossroads will be held once every four years, in an Olympic-style way, at Murray Park and its pavilions and amphitheaters. The six-day event will feature each of the six major continents through broadcasted state-of-the-art addresses, story workshops, cross-disciplinary papers, cultural explorations and performances. Some stories shared will merge other art forms such as dance, music, theatre, visual arts and film. The “off” years will be the Salt Lake County level of the Story Crossroads Festival.

The academy has reached out to Murray City schools, library and other venues, offering residencies for teachers to showcase the storyteller’s art. They also focus on youth, community, and senior tellers who have received guidance from certified story-teachers during free residencies.

“Besides teaching others the art, the purpose of the Academy is to allow people from Utah and beyond to be selected as community tellers to share the stage—virtually or in-person/proper-distanced—for the hybrid festival along with 15 story artists from Hungary, Alabama, Colorado and Utah,” Hedman said.

More information can be found online at