Local historical society tells the story of a city that persevered through a devastating fire

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In September of 2020, the Almeda Fire hit the town of Talent, Oregon. Spreading widely and rapidly, the fire destroyed homes, businesses, and many forms of wild and plant life. In total the fire destroyed 2,600 homes between Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford. It was the most destructive wildfire in Oregon’s recorded history. More than 3,000 people were displaced during this tragedy, including residents of several mobile home parks, some of the area’s most vulnerable residents.

The Talent Historical Society recently launched a new digital feature called “Talent: Town in Flames” that pursues the important mission of sharing the stories of the communities working to recover from this fire. 

“I am so glad that everyone made it out alive. I will never forget September 8, 2020,” writes Talent Elementary School student, Carina. 

One resident tells the story of her 60th birthday, which coincided with the outbreak of the fires. Another resident contributes a poem about finding new possibilities in the fire’s aftermath. Together, the blog represents the power of a community coming together to process a collective tragedy.

Local fire devastation (Courtesy: Oregon Cultural Trust)

The project showcases the survival and resilience of those impacted by the fires and illustrates how members of this compassionate community take care of one another. Stories are shared in both English and Spanish and are published to preserve this historic and challenging moment for the community. Organizers hope to use them as a tool and resource to prepare for the future. 

Next up within this documentation work will be a book project and an exhibit within the Talent Museum.

Funds from the Oregon Cultural Trust made this new exhibition possible. The exhibit at the Talent Historical Society Museum will include art, stories, and photo documentation of the Almeda Fire. The museum will also feature portable walls that will make their way across city hall, into schools, and the library. 

The exhibit is designed to be portable, and organizers hope to bring the display to other cities in Oregon, including Salem and Portland. The exhibit is expected to open in March 2023 and remain on view at the Talent Historical Society Museum for at least a year. 

Teaching Talent’s History

Teachers receive their local history curriculum notebooks. (Courtesy: Talent Historical Society)

Collecting, preserving, and interpreting history. These are the goals of the Talent Historical Society. Founded in 1994 in a small city in southern Oregon, this historical society has served as a major force for education and community resources.
 
Over the years, the Talent Historical Society has formed partnerships with local elementary, middle, and high schools in the community. This work includes the creation and implementation of a local history curriculum. 

“Local history curriculum is mostly non-existent in most communities, yet the teachers are required by the state to teach it. So, we wrote the curriculum.” says Debra Moon, outreach coordinator and writer for Talent Historical Society.

Education surrounding local Talent history also extends to the Talent Historical Society Museum, where students, staff, and community members can get an up-close look at the history of their city via guided tours. The Historical Society has assembled several historical collections, including diaries, Civil War letters, photographs, cemetery records, oral histories, and local newspapers to display. 

Moon notes that this important work provides a connective thread for the whole community that makes citizens proud of their heritage. 

“Through the Historical Society’s work, citizens have ownership and pride in their communities, which can lead to a safer way of life,” said Moon.

The Talent Museum is located at 105 N. Market Street in Talent, Oregon. (Courtesy: Talent Historical Society/Oregon Cultural Trust)

There are many ways the Talent Historical Society gives back to the community, but when asking Moon about the ways the community can support them, she notes that their greatest need is people. 

“We are only able to be open two days a week” says Moon. “We could really use help with archiving, greeting visitors, and just overall presence in the museum.” 

To learn more about the Talent Historical Society or to volunteer, visit their website.

About the Oregon Cultural Trust

Since 2003, donations to the Oregon Cultural Trust have generated more than $30 million in grants to more than 1,500 cultural organizations across Oregon. The Cultural Trust has three cultural grant programs that enable broad and deep funding throughout the state: cultural development grants, direct to organizations; county and tribal coalition awards, which fund an average of 450 additional local grants each year; and annual cultural partner awards to the Oregon Arts CommissionOregon HeritageOregon Historical SocietyOregon Humanities, and the State Historic Preservation Office. All these grants are funded exclusively by Oregonians who participate in the Oregon Cultural Tax Credit. The list of FY2023 grants includes awards to 138 organizations making a difference in Oregon. 

The primary way to support the Cultural Trust is to make a donation to a cultural nonprofit and then match it with a gift to the Cultural Trust. The donation to the Trust qualifies Oregonians for a 100percent state tax credit in that amount; the tax credit limit is $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples filing jointly and $2,500 for class-C corporations.

Another way to get involved is to purchase the “Celebrate Oregon!” Cultural Trust license plate. This vibrant license plate, designed by artist Liza Mana Burns, is a tribute to Oregon’s diverse geography, people and cultural traditions. If you look closely, you’ll find 127 symbols woven into the artwork that encompass the art, history, heritage, people and cultural practices that make Oregon unique. Proceeds from the plate support promotion of the Cultural Tax Credit to fund arts and culture across the state.

For more information on the Oregon Cultural Trust, and to learn more about all the ways you can get involved, visit https://culturaltrust.org

This article is in partnership with Here is Oregon.

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