For more than 40 years, Gail Shore of Edina has traveled to other countries on solo, self-funded trips—she’s taken photos, gotten to know the culture, and returned to share her experiences and photography with family and friends. Eventually it became clear that what she’d gathered was more than entertainment.
In 2005, Shore says, “Friends asked me, ‘What are you going to do with all this?’ ” The answer was simple: form an educational nonprofit. “We immediately recognized that the people who would benefit most [from the information] were schools,” Shore says. Cultural Jambalaya was born, using Shore’s photography to help educate students about the differences and similarities among countries around the world. “[Teachers] are trying to explain to their kids all the turmoil in the world, and cultural understanding is the key,” Shore says.
Producer Kevin May, using the resources at hand from several slideshows, says “We put together DVDs called Windows and Mirrors.” The team, working with production companies Hi-Fly’n Productions and Tremendous! Entertainment, split each DVD into regions. Videos on Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are currently available and contain photos from Shore’s trips.
“Teachers use these videos in the classroom to broaden [students’] worldviews,” Shore says. The videos are compilations of the photos taken on her trips, with voiceovers by people from that region.
“[Gail] writes the script, identifies which photos go with the script, and I edit that,” May says. For the first few years, the videos produced were actual DVDs, and since Cultural Jambalaya is a volunteer-based nonprofit, Shore, May, and other volunteers and board members went to teacher conferences to distribute the videos to educators. Then, everything began turning to online media.
“We decided to offer all our videos for free on our website,” Shore says. “It’s just the right thing to do. We’re not trying to make money; we’re just trying to find the best means possible to get our information out there.” This provided the opportunity for people all around the country to access Cultural Jambalaya’s videos, and freed up time, since volunteers no longer had to hand out copies of the DVDs.
Other volunteers include teachers who write study guides to accompany the videos. Minneapolis advertising agency Colle+McVoy does Cultural Jambalaya’s branding and web development pro bono, and McFarland Communications manages public relations, also pro bono. And board members are all actively involved. A fundraiser every fall helps support production costs. “I’m so proud of these people who just eagerly want to be involved,” Shore says.
Ann Merrill of Edina joined the board of Cultural Jambalaya in 2014 after having known Shore for 20 years, as a fellow Girl Scout board member. Along the way, Merrill was invited to one of Shore’s slide shows. “I was hooked,” Merrill says. So her involvement with Cultural Jambalaya was an easy decision. “It can be easy for people to mistakenly buy into stereotypes when they have no exposure, no connections to people who are different,” Merrill says. “[These videos] highlight interesting differences from culture to culture, but they also drive home our similarities.”
“We all want food, shelter, clothing and faith,” Shore says. “We all want family.” These similarities are what Cultural Jambalaya wants kids to notice in its videos. “We’re trying to get people to think critically about our interconnected and ever-changing world,” Shore says. “That’s cultural understanding.”