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Storytelling event has new home at Winchester Thurston

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Joanna Demarest of Murrysville is Pittsburgh area storyteller and co-producer of Three Rivers Storytelling Festival.
Joanna Demarest of Murrysville is Pittsburgh area storyteller and co-producer of Three Rivers Storytelling Festival.
Joanna Demarest of Murrysville is Pittsburgh area storyteller and co-producer of Three Rivers Storytelling Festival.
Joanna Demarest of Murrysville is Pittsburgh area storyteller and co-producer of Three Rivers Storytelling Festival.

A true tale of survival underscores the 2013 Three Rivers Storytelling Festival.

The festival, an annual festival since 2001, recently overcame a near-death experience with help from the Winchester Thurston School in Hampton.

School officials agreed to host the festival — set for Aug. 16 and 17 — after Northland Public Library in McCandless — the event's former home and birthplace — canceled this year's gathering.

“We're hopeful that this will be a partnership that is long term, that people will come to expect,” said Dionne Brelsford, director of programs at the Winchester Thurston School on Middle Road.

“Storytelling is really important in our community,” Brelsford said. “I feel that pulling this program into our community is going to strengthen the enrichment program that we already offer to students and families.”

Why did the library cancel the storytelling festival?

“Lack of funds,” said Karla Maruca, the library's acting chief operating officer. “It was created by Northland Public Library ... It was canceled by Northland Public Library.”

To save the festival — it annually draws 200 to 250 people — members of nonprofit StorySwap: The Pittsburgh Storytellers Guild set out to find a new site, plus funds for the event.

“We came together at one of our meetings and said, ‘This is not going to die,'” said storyteller Joanna Demarest, 56, of Murrysville, co-producer of the reincarnated festival, and a member of StorySwap's board of directors.

StorySwap then committed $2,000 of its funds to the event, and successfully obtained a $3,000 grant from the Grable Foundation to help stage this year's festival.

“Even before we went looking for money, we had to find a location,” Demarest said. “There were five of us who went out in the community and contacted community centers, churches, other libraries — everything we could think of — and somebody suggested to me the Winchester Thurston School.

“I contacted them, and what a reception we have received,” Demarest said. “They said, ‘Absolutely, we want you.'

“They've given us an incredible deal for the rent for the facilities,” Demarest said. “They're opening the entire school to us for the entire weekend ... So this unfortunate circumstance has become an unbelievable opportunity for us.”

StorySwap still seeks, however, an organization or individuals to sponsor a tent — estimated to cost $800 to $1,000 — for outdoor sessions at the festival, which will include performances and workshops.

People also may donate money for T-shirts or meals with festival storytellers through an online fundraising campaign at projects/three-rivers- storytelling-festival.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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