January 01, 2014
BY CORI URBAN, The Republican
Technology was once the realm of the mills in the Connecticut River-side village of Turners Falls, but today technology is being used to export the village’s stories to the rest of the world.
Turners Falls Encoded, a series of quick response codes leading to multimedia vignettes, is one such use of technology. It tells the stories of Turners Falls’ residents, history and businesses.
“Woven together with audio and photography, these stories paint a vibrant and creative portrait of our town and inspire visitors to explore the area beyond the unique events we are already known for,” said Lisa B. Davol, former director and former interim director of RiverCulture. These include the Turners Falls Block Party, Montague Soapbox Derby, Franklin County Pumpkin Fest, Great Falls Coffeehouse, Crabapple Blossom Festival and Upper Valley Music Festival.
Turners Falls Encoded was the thesis project of Hampshire College student Robert J. “RJ” Sakai after a year of ethnographic work and created in collaboration with RiverCulture.
Sakai, who is from Los Angeles, graduated in 2012, concentrating in subjects including graphic design, tourism, ethnography, Spanish and urban studies. His senior thesis year at Hampshire College was dedicated to conceiving, researching and implementing Turners Falls Encoded.
“I wanted to execute a design project oriented toward doing social good in a local community,” he said. “I felt the best way to ensure I was doing social good, was to have my design work be informed by intense ethnographic research.”
Codes are scattered around the town and lead to the vignettes when scanned with a smart phone.
Initially, codes were placed in random places. But because the market is not just residents and people who are already here, codes were made available to encourage people who appreciate Turners Falls to print one or two and bring them on trips to leave for others to discover. “Perhaps college students will bring some back to their home towns on holidays and school breaks, others will bring a few when they travel abroad and post them to a public bulletin board or leave one in a cafe etc.,” Davol suggested. “We realized we don’t need permanent codes installed in town. We can print some out and leave them in different locations in town as we feel like it.”
The codes also are available on the RiverCulture website, turnersfallsriverculture.org/turners-falls-encoded.
The series includes six codes:
“#1 Track of Turners” is about Turners Falls resident Ed Gregory and the rich fossil history of the region as well as stories of his personal fossil collection: http://mobile.turnersfallsriverculture.org/qr-tracks.htm.
“#2 Starting in Turners” is about the Second Street Baking Co. story of starting the business: http://mobile.turnersfallsriverculture.org/qr-bakery.html.
“#3 Treasures in Turners” is the story of how the landscape, history, architecture and arts in Turners Falls were factors in influencing John MacNamara and Erin McLean to open their shop, LOOT, in Turners Falls: http://mobile.turnersfallsriverculture.org/qr-loot.html.
“#4 Carts in Turners Falls” shows Turners Falls artist Nina Rossi’s, perspective on shopping carts in Turners Falls and features her art and poetry: http://mobile.turnersfallsriverculture.org/qr-nina.html.
“#5 Experiments in Turners Falls” is about how the Rendezvous bar serves as a hub for experimentation for artists and residents in the community as well as serving food and drink: http://mobile.turnersfallsriverculture.org/qr-voo.html.
“#6 I Would” leads to a question, which will periodically change and is an opportunity for viewers to participate in the project: http://mobile.turnersfallsriverculture.org/qr-question-1.html.
“I like that it is easy to use. Just scan and watch,” Davol said. “The content is interesting, thoughtful and artistically produced.”
When visitors come to town, they can feel like they already know some of the people after seeing the vignettes, and residents can learn more about some of their neighbors. And because the codes can be printed and posted anywhere in the world, the town gets far-reaching exposure. The codes were designed to entice someone to scan it with titles such as “Treasures in Turners“ or “Carts in Turners“ with a logo around the code rather than just a code, “which would not make anyone look twice,” Davol said.
There is one code that does not lead to a vignette but to a question. The question will periodically be changed to keep things interesting. One code was entitled “I Would“ and queries: “If I ran Turners Falls, I would….” People can type their answers and others can view all the responses.
“Turners Falls is full of industrious, curious, creative people who know how make the most of the available resources and the riches found here,” Davol said. “New businesses are opening in town, there has been a surge in interest in being downtown with the many new events that have sprung up, and now that the Gill Montague Bridge has opened, there is increased opportunity for more visitors and commerce.”
Sakai said that just like any place, Turners Falls is constantly undergoing change, whether consciously or not. “In doing Turners Falls Encoded, I did not try to abandon the history of the place as an old mill town,” he said.
In fact, the Encoded logo references the mill buildings. “Projects like Encoded elaborate on the town’s history by highlighting what new things the town offers nowadays while not denying any past history. Any place’s past identities are in part what make up the current identity,” he said. “Turners has a lot going for it that one might not realize just by driving through. I encourage everyone to stop by and walk around a bi