Cultural Jambalaya presents Windows and Mirrors: Religion & Spirituality, Thursday, September 24, 2015 in Minneapolis, hosted by Don Shelby. Music by the WCCO Blues Band. For tickets and more information, visit www.culturaljam.org/happenings
For more than 40 years, Minnesotan Gail Shore has traveled the far corners of the world, using her camera to capture stunning, insightful and compassionate glimpses into cultures Americans seldom see.
These days, those photos are getting a lot more attention; fueling thought-provoking discussions and inspiring imaginations in classrooms all over the country.
Shore is the founder of Cultural Jambalaya, a 501(c)(3) Minnesota-based nonprofit that uses international cultural photography as a creative teaching tool in schools. Now in its tenth year, Cultural Jambalaya’s national award-winning video series uses Shore’s photography to broaden world views of students by illustrating our diverse cultural backgrounds. The organization also works with multicultural businesses and organizations as part of their diversity initiatives and marketing or employee programs.
For a world-traveler, it’s been a long and eventful journey.
“For years, the only people who saw my work were friends and colleagues who came to my slide show presentations,” said Shore, a public relations specialist by profession. Those friends, a multidisciplinary group with expertise in communications, law, nonprofits and more, encouraged her to do more with her photos. With their help, Shore founded Cultural Jambalaya in 2005 with a goal of using the images to foster greater understanding of global cultures and acceptance of our similarities as well as our differences. After considerable exploration, the organization decided to package its products for educators, who proved hungry for the images as a rich teaching resource.
“From talking with teachers we learned that there’s just a real shortage of good quality, current, global cultural images available in our schools,” Shore said. “They’ve really welcomed this resource with open arms.”
With generous production assistance from Hi Flyin’ Productions’ Kevin May and Tremendous! Entertainment (producer of the globe-trotting Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern program), Cultural Jambalaya released its first educational video “Windows & Mirrors” in 2009, highlighting people and cultures using global images. Combined with a free online study guide, the video became a valued resource for Middle School and High School teachers to engage students in a variety of subjects, including social studies, geography, history, diversity and language. Its high production values also earned it a national Telly Award for excellence in cultural education.
Since then, the organization has produced six Telly-winning videos, including those on Africa, Asia, The Middle East and Latin America; and its latest video focusing on Customs and Rituals.
“I’ve traveled to some of the most remote and isolated corners of the world, trying to raise awareness for our planet’s rich cultural diversity that includes remarkable people and their traditions, customs…and religions,” said Shore. “Through my experiences, I’ve tried to spark students’ imagination, shatter stereotypes and ignite critical thinking as they learn about new cultures and individuals.”
The organization continues to run on a shoestring. Shore’s travel is self-funded, and resources like Tremendous! Entertainment offer their services pro bono. That, plus the financial and in-kind support of sponsors (including Delta Air Lines, Ciresi Conlin LLP, Metro Dogs Daycare & Boarding, Great Clips, Tom & Marlene Kayser, Robins, Kaplan LLP, Video Guidance, Wells Fargo, DS&B, National Camera Exchange, Colle + McVoy, D’Amico Catering, Hi-Fly’n Productions, McFarland Communications and Kraus-Anderson), enables Cultural Jambalaya to make its video products available free online at www.culturaljam.org/educators.
Teachers find the videos and online lesson plans are adaptable to a range of courses, from geography to history to current events.
“Windows and Mirrors” provides a foundational lens into diverse cultures throughout the world,” said Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, co-director of the Human Rights Center, University of Minnesota Law School. “This lens helps viewers of all ages understand a shared humanity while opening a door to exciting new discoveries and cultural adventures,” she said.
Following the release of its next DVD, Windows and Mirrors: Religion & Spirituality, Cultural Jambalaya will turn its lens to the full diversity of cultures within America. It will be the first time the organization has used United States as its subject; and the first time it has expanded its photography beyond that shot by Shore herself.
“We feel the time is right to introduce our next 5-part
series on our own country, illustrating the diverse cultural backgrounds that make up America’s rich mosaic – Native Americans, our early immigrants and our recent immigrants,” said Shore. Because Shore’s photography has mostly showcased other countries, Cultural Jambalaya will be using and soliciting images that other photographers may want to contribute.
For all the success the organization has seen over ten years, Shore is simply grateful for the opportunity to do her part in broadening the horizons of people of all ages. That endeavor has also put her in good company, including, for the past several years, attendance at symposiums and retreats with The Carter Center. As an Ambassador for The Carter Center, she is surrounded at many of these events by dignitaries, foundation directors, and world citizens — including President Jimmy Carter. Shore is amazed at where her journey has taken her.
“To say my life has been enriched by President Carter is an understatement,” said Shore, who just this summer again spent five days with him and Mrs. Carter in Colorado at a Carter Center retreat. “In my opinion, he’s the world’s most accomplished, remarkable humanitarian that fights every single day of his life on behalf of peace and human rights. Whether you’re a world leader or everyday person, President Carter inspires everyone around him to lead with love and kindness. He has unquestionably impacted my life and makes me want to be a better person.”
Cultural Jambalaya and The Carter Center share similar goals, particularly in the area of human rights and social justice. President Carter himself has acknowledged the work of Cultural Jambalaya.
“Organizations like Cultural Jambalaya are encouraging us to ask, how can we bridge the cultural differences between ourselves and others from around the world? How can we become good citizens of a global, ethical community? Our increasingly diverse world makes respecting one another not just the first step, but the most important step, to breaking down cultural barriers,” President Carter said.
“I encourage you to continue the good work you are doing to help young people and adults alike better understand and embrace our similarities as well as our differences,” Carter added.