Known as “The Heart of the Illinois Amish Countr,” Arthur, Illinois is a small village with a population of 1,600. In February 2017, WEIU produced Arthur: This is Our Story to showcase the heritage and spirit of this local community through stories from the perspective of Arthur residents.
WEIU “Our Story” co-directors ventured into this new project by first contacting “movers & shakers” in Arthur and invited them to become a part of a “Champion Group.” This group of volunteers met with us one morning to discuss the potential of creating a program that would shine the light on their town through the eyes of the people who call Arthur, IL home. We also asked them to help spread the word about our intentions and the value of their local PBS station producing a quality program like this. This group of only 6 individuals was excited and thankful that we chose their community and we were excited that they were onboard with it as well. This would be the 7th program of this kind for WEIU TV in partnership with a local community in the “Our Story” series.
WEIU Staff got busy promoting this special program to folks in Arthur. We partnered with the local newspaper: The Arthur Graphic Clarion. We also used our own airtime with a reach of 22 counties and over 1 million potential viewers/listeners. The newspaper wrote articles and placed in-kind ads promoting this opportunity. Several posters, flyers, counter cards, social media posts/tweets were utilized during this 3 week promotion to rev up excitement to get Arthur people involved.
Three weeks later, during a community meeting held at Penn Station, a music venue in Arthur, we asked local residents to serve as “storytellers” for this special production. Over 50 people attended the open meeting and we gave them instruction and examples of what it would take to be a storyteller for this program. Twenty-eight excited people volunteered to be storytellers. We supplied them with a production manual and many tips on how to complete the task of telling their story. They soon grabbed their video recording devices, captured footage for their story, sifted through photos and gathered memorabilia.
A month later, during a production day in Arthur at The Great Pumpkin Patch, WEIU collected media provided by the storytellers that included photos, video as well as memorabilia. 28 storytellers sat down in front of us over a 2-day period and shared their stories as we captured their emotion and passion on our camera. The topics of the stories ranged from local history, events, people, family, schools, pyrotechnics, a women’s club, community meals, Amish history, and many more.
Soon thereafter, back in the edit bays at WEIU, the magic began to happen! These stories came to life as we edited the history, events and people that shaped Arthur, told by the people who live there.
When the production was completed WEIU hosted a premiere party for all of the storytellers and their family along with the underwriters and program supporters. This event was held at Penn Station where nearly 80 people attended and the storytellers were seeing the stories they shared on the “big screen” for the first time. During the presentation, we heard passionate remarks, saw tears flowing down cheeks, hear laughter and saw shared hugs. Many positive comments were shared with us throughout the evening expressing thanks and gratitude. Afterwards these folks began promoting the “Live Night” that would broadcast on WEIU TV the following week as part of a membership campaign. Once again, several posters, social media promos, posts/tweets were utilized to rev up excitement to get folks to tune-in on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
All of the storytellers and underwriters were invited to participate in our LIVE on air presentation of Arthur: This is Our Story in the WEIU TV studio. It was an exciting evening with storytellers answering phone calls, and viewers excited to support the program financially with pledges. Members would receive a DVD of the program as a thank you gift. We had 87 calls and raised nearly $9,000 in one night. This 2-hour program became a treasured heirloom that has preserved the history of Arthur and will forever be a reminder of their community engagement with WEIU TV.