Lucia Gaviria, Michael Dello Iacono, and Alison McCarthy – co-hosts of Beverly Talks.
by Joey Phoenix
“How well do you know your neighbors, Lucia?”
“I don’t know all my neighbors, but I do know a couple.”
Have you ever taken a walk around your neighborhood and wondered what goes on in the houses you see? Have you thought about what kind of people live there, what lives they lead?
For Lucia Gaviria, this thought led to the creation of Beverly Talks, a podcast that reaches into the lives of Beverly residents asking “Who are you? What do you find important in this life?”
In the digital age, people are connected more than ever. You can FaceTime people in Tokyo or Budapest and find friends who have the same weird hobby niche and discuss it endlessly on web forums. Yet, while it’s possible to reach far and wide, most people have no idea who lives just down the street from them.
Mr. Rogers’ hopeful refrain “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” was sung in the most metaphorical of senses. We are all part of the global community, but we are less aware of what’s happening locally. Lucia, along with co-hosts Alison and Michael, are working to suss that out with Beverly Talks, asking the question, “Who are our neighbors?”
“It all came from the idea that we are interacting less with people in our neighborhood because everything is so digital,” Lucia said. “So we thought we should preserve those moments when you actually meet people in your neighborhood and record what happens in that conversation.”
Lucia moved to the U.S. from Peru in 2011 and eventually landed in the seaside town of Beverly, MA. As a mom new to the culture and the city, she found herself wandering around Beverly trying to make connections that just weren’t readily available.
“Motherhood can be very isolating, whether you’re working or not. I’m very social and I like talking to people, and meeting moms at the playground wasn’t enough,” she recalled. “I was curious about all the people that lived in the houses.”
Initially, she wanted to host a podcast that would be in Spanish, but after seeing a flier from the Beverly Cultural Council offering grants for those doing projects in the arts – and in her case, storytelling – the idea morphed into something more hyperlocal, something that would be in English and focus on the residents of Beverly.
“When I was trying to figure out exactly what to say in the application,” Lucia remembered, “the word that came to my head is that if I’m going to write something or if I’m going to create something, it has to be about connection.
“I thought it was a crazy idea because who goes to meet strangers in your neighborhood?” Lucia said.
As it would turn out, the idea wasn’t crazy at all.
Beverly’s Ongoing Cultural Legacy
Alison McCarthy was watching her daughter play at the playground one day when she met Lucia, who was there watching her son. The two of them quickly became friends. One day, Lucia casually mentioned that she had gone to a meeting at the Beverly Cultural Council to talk about the project.”
“I immediately thought it was an amazing idea,” Alison said. “I work for a theatre company and I do grant writing and so I told her I would be happy to help her.”
“I really needed help in terms of support, because if you start something from nothing and you don’t really know if you’re capable of doing it, just having someone else who believes in your project is huge,” Lucia said.
Once the two of them started working on the application, Alison mentioned that there was another person who might be a good fit for the team: Michael Dello Iacono, who works as an archivist for Suffolk University. Lucia put him on the application before even meeting him.
The Beverly Cultural Council gave the team a $1,000 grant, which was enough for them to get the equipment they needed to get started.
Beverly Talks recorded their first set of podcasts in 2019 and released the first six on their website. The team is planning a release of many more starting next month.
Some of the people they’ve interviewed include stylist Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin, storyteller Tony Toledo, and historian Nancy Coffee.
Through this process, Lucia, Michael, and Alison have not only become close friends and more experienced co-hosts, but they’ve also started to build something that will become a part of Beverly’s ongoing cultural legacy.
“Initially Lucia just wanted to do a podcast and send it out as this community-building thing,” Michael said, “so I suggested that we should [also] do something with these recordings afterward. If we’re preserving them as a slice of life oral history collection, why not archive them in the Beverly Public Library?”
The idea stuck, and it’s now possible to listen to Beverly Talks podcasts by searching the catalog at the Beverly Public Library.
“[The Beverly Public Library staff] are making sure that this stuff is kept in the library catalog that’s also connected to the Digital Commonwealth, which is an aggregate database that shows all the historic collections all over Massachusetts,” Michael explained.
“They make all of their archival suggestions available through this online portal, so [the podcasts] will be in good company as part of the rest of the historical collection that the rest of Massachusetts has.”
The City and the Stories of Beverly
The one thing that the team agrees on is that the work they are doing is valuable. For Lucia, it’s about connection, but primarily the people who are being interviewed that matter most – their stories and what they find important matter deeply and deserve to be recorded.
For Alison, it’s also the connectivity piece, because the connections made between people is what sustains us as human beings. For Michael, it’s these two things plus the fact that it is part of the ongoing record.
“I think it’s especially valuable if we’re looking at stuff fifty years from now, we’re going to get a good idea of how people lived, the kind of language they used, what interested them as a regular citizen of a small town,” Michael said.
“That’s kind of rare when you look at the archival record,” he added. “Usually things that remain after 100 years are not people’s musings on their life, it’s like a government document.”
For Lucia, it would be a shame if only government documents existed when the stories of the people are actually what enrich communities historically and culturally.
“I guess it bothers me to see so many people isolated,” Lucia explained. “They have a lot of precious things to share about their lives, and they don’t know it, and no one knows it.”
In a community, every voice and every person matters, and what Beverly Talks is trying to do is create opportunities for those connections to exist, to reach people who may have never been asked about their life, and to record these stories as part of Beverly’s living history. In doing so, they’re also adding more cultural value to the city of Beverly as a whole.
For Alison, one of the things she’s been surprised to discover has to do with the city of Beverly itself.
“I think I’ve learned things about Beverly, not just the people and their personal stories, but about Beverly itself that I had no idea about, and I’ve lived here fifteen years. I find all those things fascinating,” she said.
“[Beverly] is this secret that people don’t know,” Michael added. “It’s a city that has this small village feel but it’s still connected to Boston. You can get anything you would get in a bigger city, while still having that ability to live on the beach and have a quiet area that’s pretty.”
Beverly is a great place with rich local history and people who add to its cultural value. As a thriving community with an expanding downtown arts district and restaurant scene, it’s the kind of place full of stories waiting to be told, stories that will inspire and make the world seem a little less lonely.
“Now that I know what podcasts and media can do, stories of people, how they did things, how they overcame things – content like this that’s used for entertainment, people can benefit from it, the whole community can benefit from it,” Lucia said.
“Being able to be involved in this project has made me like it even more, I see it differently because I see people now with that level of curiosity I didn’t see before,” Alison said.
“I’m passionate about connecting with people of all kinds,” Lucia explained. “If we can connect we can laugh about things, I can get you and you can really get me and suddenly there’s no barrier. It’s how you see who people really are.”
Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable deep-sea creatures, feel free to send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them @jphoenixmedia on twitter.
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