The Center for Digital Storytelling emerged out of the artistic and cultural ferment in the United States during the 1970s and 80s. During this time, arts practitioners and educators across disciplines challenged the notion that art should be reserved for the gifted or the professional. Recognizing that lay practitioners could make enormous creative contributions, these pioneering artists wanted to make art accessible to all – especially those traditionally left behind. The work of these artists and a broad range of collaborators gave voice to powerful stories of harm, healing, and hope in the midst of social and political conflict.
Just as they worked to increase access to artistic expression, artists and arts educators sought to expand the scope of creative endeavor. The emerging technologies of the 1990s offered new tools for expression and fertile ground for experimentation. Utilizing these new practices, a group of Bay Area media artists and designers came together to explore how digital media tools could be used to empower personal storytelling.
As numerous collaborators exchanged ideas and found common ground in a shared vision of cultural democracy and social change, the Center for Digital Storytelling partnership took shape. Dana Atchley, a media producer and interdisciplinary artist, had developed NEXT EXIT, a multimedia autobiography. Among others, he attracted local theater producer Joe Lambert as a collaborator in producing the piece. Together they discovered that people with little or no prior experience in multimedia could produce powerful personal stories with the new technology. In 1994, Joe and Dana, along with Nina Mullen, founded the San Francisco Digital Media Center. Over the next several years, the group refined a curriculum that became the basis for community workshops to teach digital storytelling skills.
In 1998, the San Francisco Center for Digital Media moved to Berkeley and became the Center for Digital Storytelling. Since then, the Center has worked with nearly a thousand organizations around the world and trained more than fifteen thousand people in hundreds of workshops to share stories from their lives. Through its wide-ranging work, the Center has transformed the way that community activists, educators, health and human services agencies, business professionals, and artists think about the power of personal voice in creating change.
In Memory of Dana Atchely
Dana Atchley's pioneering work as a media artist, video producer, and performer was the principle inspiration for the Center’s work in digital storytelling. Executive Director Joe Lambert worked with Dana for several years on the development of NEXT EXIT.
Dana passed away December 13, 2000 due to complications following a bone marrow transplant. A number of his friends and family created stories in his honor for an online memorial at nextexit.com.