NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — On Wednesday, Free Press, in collaboration with coLAB Arts and United Way of Northern New Jersey, launched 37 Voices, a New Jersey initiative featuring stories of economic insecurity from the region.
The initiative’s web platform, www.37voices.com, features an interview archive that will be regularly updated to include interviews with 37 residents of Middlesex and Essex Counties, all of whom have wrestled with economic insecurity. The platform also includes research journalism, photo essays produced by Newest Americans, podcasts produced by Oral History and Folklife Research, additional research and project resources, and coLAB Arts’ 37 Voices performance calendar.
“37 Voices is coLAB Arts’ first step towards realizing its potential as a regional arts-based research hub,” said coLAB Arts Producing Director Dan Swern. “We’re uncompromising as artists and have found that our capacity to create solutions-oriented storytelling around complex issues offers our partner organizations and communities a needed tool in support of their advocacy.”
“Economic insecurity is one of the most urgent social issues facing our communities today,” said Mike Rispoli, News Voices director for Free Press. “We need to find new ways to lift up the stories of those impacted, and examine the underlying policies that enable poverty. Journalism can play a big role in doing that, and it must do more to portray people in a humane and multi-dimensional way. That’s why 37 Voices is so exciting. By bringing together journalists, artists, social workers, advocates, and researchers, we hope to change the narrative around what it means to experience poverty.”
The 37 Voices project takes its name from the United Way’s 2016 ALICE Report for New Jersey, which found that 37 percent of Garden State households live below the ALICE threshold, including ALICE and those in poverty. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and represents people who earn above the federal poverty level, but less than what it takes to survive. The United Way’s 2018 report saw the number of struggling families rise to 38.5 percent. The ALICE report and project are produced by 37 Voices partner United Way of Northern New Jersey.
“Through 37 Voices we hear directly from ALICE — giving these hardworking families a powerful platform to be seen and heard,” said United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO John Franklin. “ALICE individuals get to take back the narrative of their own stories with 37 Voices, challenging long-standing myths about who struggles financially in New Jersey and why.”
Lead project partner organizations include the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, the Feeding New Brunswick Network, Newest Americans, NJ Spark, and Oral History and Folklife Research. In addition, the 37 Voices interviews could not have happened without the support of grassroots organizations across the state.
The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation provided project grant funding.