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Diana Flores ’20 works with Mountain Lake PBS to explore the stories behind an Adirondack folk opera

By Upstate Institute on June 13, 2018

Diana Flores ’20 participates in the Adirondack Nonprofit Network meeting at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks.

Through the Upstate Institute Summer Field School, I am working with Mountain Lake PBS to conduct interviews for a website that will be created for “A Promised Land: An Adirondack Folk Opera.” Mountain Lake PBS is the PBS network covering the Adirondack region, Champlain Valley, Quebec and Ontario. PBS has long been a non-profit television channel serving people with enriching media. The television network is meant to entertain, educate and inspire and ranges in its media from children’s shows to Emmy award winning documentaries to local productions. Through the power of media, Mountain Lake PBS sets out to encourage public engagement, and ensure a quality television outlet for all through the power of media. I hope that my work will help them to stretch their reach even further, and to do more with the Promised Land project than they had originally intended.

On my first day at the studio, CEO Bill McColgan shared with me their excitement in having me on the team. Since then, I have been completely overwhelmed by their passion and dedication to public media. I began my project by conducting two practice interviews with two employees about how they started their work at PBS, which served as a humbling experience and allowed me to really grasp the magnitude of their work. Although Mountain Lake PBS serves a large and diverse community, they serve to provide quality media to people from all walks of life. Mountain Lake PBS serves to inspire and educate the community, and has repeatedly partnered with local organizations for the promotion of early childhood education and a focus on STEM. Through more localized productions, Mountain Lake PBS strives to show a series of unique stories contributing to an Adirondack identity, but also to teach the Adirondack community about certain histories and stories they may not have known about before.

Media attention is crucial for the “Promised Land” opera, not only for the sake of gaining the opera credibility and ultimately funders, but for the sake of educating this community on their role in a national struggle. “A Promised Land: An Adirondack Folk Opera” highlights the work of abolitionists Gerritt Smith and John Brown and their fight against racist and unjust voting regulations. It tells the story of black Americans Lyman, Anna Epps and John Thomas, and their struggle for the right to vote. While Mountain Lake PBS Producer Paul Larson works on four stories covering the history and importance of Timbuktoo, my work focuses on the community impact of this story and this art piece. Rural opera is difficult to fund and maintain, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Similarly, the Adirondack region is extremely white, but that doesn’t mean it always was. My job is to interview community members, historical experts, and members of the choir performance of the opera to explore what it means to be an Adirondack local. We question how this opera and this history affects Adirondack identity and how it can bring about a positive change to the community. While my interviews will not be shown on TV, it is my deepest hope that their being put on the MLPBS webpage will make them accessible and therefore help more people learn about this beautiful history and emerging opera.

Because I study both history and Peace and Conflict Studies (PCON) at Colgate, I have learned how to navigate history in terms of what it means to people. A lot of the course material in PCON concentrates on the lived experience of people, and seeing people not through the lens of one’s own life and expectations but through a local context in which one must understand all the rarities that have led to this person being the way they are. After coming to Colgate and being introduced to the unique Central New York community, I was excited about further exploring the identity of a region that is often overshadowed by the fame and grandiosity of New York City. As a result, I wanted to become a Field School Fellow. Although the Adirondacks are obviously not in Central New York, I welcomed the opportunity to become exposed to another unknown community.

From this experience I have already gotten a deep sense of what it means to be a community, and why a television network as famous as PBS wants to work with a university professor-composer like Glenn McClure to help spread the beauty of opera. Through the interviews I have conducted, I have seen the passion of people who live in this region to committing themselves to help promote their community, and the warmth and kindness with which they have received me into their community. Interviewing people has been an amazing skill to learn, sometimes you can’t just stick to the predetermined questions and its necessary to delve into deeper inquisitions, opening up a beautiful conversation.


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