In 2016, lifelong Lanesboro resident Olivia Obritsch had the opportunity to delve into the history of her town in a way she never had before. She was one of three students who participated in the Youth Access Technology Project, a program funded by the Smithsonian Institute that gave young people in Lanesboro the opportunity to create documentaries that spotlighted local history. The experience had a significant impact on Olivia, giving her a new perspective on her work, her life, and her community.
For Olivia, growing up in Lanesboro meant that the arts had always been woven into her life—she spent her childhood performing in nursing homes, attending productions at the Commonweal Theatre, and acting out Shakespeare plays with her Barbie dolls. “Having the arts in my life at a young age was very impactful for me,” she says fondly when asked about growing up in Lanesboro. “It really helped develop my mind and heart for an openness to different ideas and thinking critically.” Through the YATP program, Lanesboro Arts encouraged her passion for artistic expression by giving her the time and resources to create a full-fledged documentary.
“I never thought that I would get into filmmaking when I was younger, but opportunities arose for me here in Lanesboro and I figured that I would take advantage of them,” says Olivia.
Her project focused on the story behind the economic revitalization of Lanesboro. Through interviews with Lanesboro residents who had lived in the town for many years, Olivia constructed a rich oral history of the construction of the Root River Bike Trail, as well as the establishment of arts organizations such as Lanesboro Arts and the Commonweal Theatre. The experience strengthened her connection with the town’s history and people.
“I developed a deeper appreciation, feeling of belonging, and investment in my community and its future,” Olivia says when discussing the project.
In the two months leading up to the project, Olivia and her fellow documentarians took classes on research skills, interviewing best practices, and how to use film equipment. Aside from gaining technical filmmaking experience, Olivia learned several important life skills such as meeting deadlines, composing emails, and conducting interviews. The project also helped her develop a sense of confidence in her abilities. As she says, “I still look back on the entire process of making these documentaries and think, ‘Man, I did that!’”
Olivia is currently pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Benedictine College, where the skills she’s learned as an artist have proven useful. “To be a very successful engineer … the ability to communicate, to express yourself well, both orally and in presentations, is very, very important. … And those are skills that I definitely learned through the project,” she says. She hopes to integrate the arts into her senior honors project by using interviews and documentary elements to make her scientific research truly come alive.
Olivia knows that the artistic experiences she’s had in Lanesboro will stay with her throughout her life. “I feel like living in a small community with an arts basis … it’s shaped the person that I am,” she says.