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News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, September 6, 2017
Local storyteller calls for local community stories

Reflecting in the lab

Galen Koch takes a moment to reflect in her mobile media lab.

Photo by Justin Levesque Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Monique Labbe

At 28 years old, Stonington native Galen Koch is in the midst of developing a project that would bring the stories of year-round fishing communities, including her hometown, to life.

Koch, who currently resides in Portland as a documentary storyteller, said she recently worked on a project telling the story of the working waterfront in Maine’s largest city. During her work on that project, she started thinking about the fishing community she grew up in on the island—what it was like while she was growing up, its present and its future.

“Nobody in my family was in the industry, but it was such a huge part of the community and culture I grew up in,” she said. “While I was doing the Portland story, I realized that there isn’t a lot of production that comes out of it there, and I started thinking to myself ‘could my hometown industry meet that same end? What do people think about it?’”

She started to do research and eventually came up with the idea for The First Coast Studio. Koch purchased a 1976 Airstream, which she named Cilla, after her great-grandmother, for “good luck,” and has been busy renovating it into a traveling media lab. Her goal is to get on the road in October and travel to different rural year-round fishing communities on the coast, to collect stories and then tell them in visual ways through the various media platforms she will have at her disposal in the lab.

“I’m really interested in year-round sustainability, and what that means for the different communities,” she said. “There are so many publications that refer to Maine as a vacation destination, but we’re so much more than that, and it’s a story I think needs to be told.”

The goal for the remainder of 2017 is to hit the Stonington and Lubec communities, and then start expanding to other towns in 2018. Koch said the current plan is to collect stories from the different historical societies, firsthand accounts from fishermen, etc. over the course of a few days in one particular town, and then return a few weeks later with a finished product that will be displayed for the community in the Airstream.

“This has kind of taken on a life of its own,” said Koch. “There are so many different things we could do with it, and you don’t know what stories you’ll get when you get somewhere, so it has the ability to be really fluid. At this point I’m just testing things out to see what works.”

Koch said she has been “lucky” to have received a grant from the Maine Arts Commission for the renovations to the Airstream, which served as a good starting off point for the endeavor.

“Having the ability to travel with the lab will help us tell the stories more efficiently I think,” she said. “I really feel this sort of urgency to get the conversation going about these things and bring sustainability to the forefront of people’s attention.”

Koch is tentatively scheduled to be in Stonington to collect stories on October 15. Being from the island, she said she is a little nervous about what the initial response to her inquiries might be.

“Knowing so many people here, I’m hopeful that people will be responsive and willing to tell me their stories,” she said. “I don’t have an agenda other than that I want to tell their stories, good, bad or otherwise.”

Clarification: In this article, there were a few pieces of information that were unclear. In addition to funding from the Maine Arts Commission, as reported, Koch’s project has also received funding from SPACE Gallery in Portland through the Kindling Fund. Additionally, the timeline for Koch’s visits to each town will be two-to-four weeks. The Airstream was not purchased by Koch, as reported, but donated by Peter Collin of Deer Isle. In addition to an interest in sustainability, the project hopes to bring attention to Maine’s coastal year-round communities and how that sustainability relates both historically and into the future.

Deep in renovations

Galen Koch is in the process of renovating a 1976 Airstream into a mobile media lab.

Photo by Jenny Rebecca Nelson
Reflecting in the lab

Galen Koch takes a moment to reflect in her mobile media lab.

Photo by Justin Levesque