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There’s No Place Like Oz: Digital Project Provides New Take on an N.C. Subculture

Liss Lfleur and students at Land of Oz
(r-l) Julia Singley ’15, Aly Dove ’16, Billy Kaskay ’18 and Prof. Liss LaFleur explored the Land of Oz in Beech Mountain, N.C. The theme park opens its doors to visitors for one weekend each year.

In Beech Mountain, N.C., you'll find the Land of Oz–a theme park based on the 1949 Wizard of Oz film that was operational from 1970 to 1980 and now opens for one weekend per year. This year, Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Liss LaFleur and three students–Billy Kaskay '18, Julia Singley '15 and Aly Dove '16–attended the weekend event with cameras in hand. They will tell the story of the park (from their perspectives) at a presentation of their collaborative digital project at 6 p.m., Friday, May 8, in Semans Lecture Hall, Belk Visual Arts Center.

"A lot of my work focuses on historic parallelism or considering past narratives in present tense to find new meaning," explained LaFleur. "So it's really exciting to view a historic community like this with fresh eyes."

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

For a decade, the park's 450 acres created a living story, but a fire, looting, vandalism and declining interest led operators to close the park in 1980. The park was restored in the late 1990s and is now available for personal tours, birthday parties and private functions, in addition to the annual Autumn at Oz weekend for visitors.

LaFleur discovered the park while researching subcultures in North Carolina. "I became interested in exploring nostalgia and why people won't let certain traditions die," she said. "We almost became complicit in the attempt to keep the park alive by doing this project. What started out as a location-based interactive project built around people's memories evolved into our own exploration of the Land of Oz."

LaFleur involved students in the project because of its scope and value as a co-curricular experience. She recruited Singley, who is from the Beech Mountain area and had experience in digital storytelling, Dove who is involved in community-based photography initiatives, and Kaskay, who was recommended by Peter Carolla '06.

"I looked up Liss's work and found that she approached film in an inspiring way that I had never seen before, and I really wanted to work with her," said Kaskay. "The Wizard of Oz is also my favorite movie, and I had heard of the park before but had never visited."

An anthropology major, Singley produced a short documentary while studying abroad in Bolivia and was intrigued by the Oz project because it joined ethnography with digital storytelling.

"Working on this project has taught us a lot about artistic freedom and operating within certain constraints while also learning how to find and apply for grants," she said. The group received support from a Davidson College Friends of the Arts Spike! Grant.

The group poses for a photo at Land of Oz
The park re-creates the Wizard of Oz story and invites people who enjoy dressing up as Oz characters to interact with guests.

The final product includes a four-way, multichannel video reel of footage from the various videographers, synched to a single soundtrack, as well as interviews with people who have worked at and visited the park. The piece will appear on a website dedicated to the project.

"This became a truly collaborative effort where the students had just as much ownership as I did," said LaFleur. "It's inspiring for me to work with students who are so bright and curious, and to show them how they can play an active role in their community."

In addition to tangible skills, the students gained appreciation for the journey. Singley said, "I'm most proud to share the process-how we arrived at our final project, the significance of collaboration and Liss's mentorship along the way."

If you have visited the Land of Oz theme park and plan to attend the May 8 event, you will have the opportunity to write down your memories and share your photos.