It was first called Blue Sky.

It was everything. And nothing.

After working for years in theater and public relations, Vicki Solot knew she wanted to start an arts organization but didn't know what it should be. "I wanted it to be anything that seemed to emerge, but I had to have a name to put down when we incorporated it as a nonprofit organization," said Solot. "I wanted it to be open-ended, and have the sky be the limit as to what it could be."

Based in part on the experience of traveling in Alaska while reading a memoir called "Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece," Solot was struck by inspiration: a festival devoted to memoir and personal documentary. Blue Sky became First Person Arts.

It was tough going at first. The general public didn't quite know what to make of a "first person" festival. But something was happening in New York--people gathering in bars to recite poetry, and the poets began morphing into storytellers. Solot saw kindred spirits, and began to coordinate Story Slams in Philadelphia.

"They were an overnight success," Solot remembers. "We opened the first one and we had to turn 50 people away."

Solot has shepherded First Person Arts through its first 10 years, from the shadow of 9/11 to the depths of a global recession. Friends and neighbors, wallflowers and divas, strangers and amateurs of all stripes have stood at a microphone to tell their stories.

Ironically, Solot never told her own story at a Slam.

Scratch that. She took the mic once, when a last-minute Story Slam slot needed to be filled. See the video above.

Now, Solot is moving on. After the curtain falls on the 2011 festival, she will step down from First Person Arts and let someone else direct the second act. Solot doesn't yet know what she will do. The sky looks as blue as it did 10 years ago.

"I kind of feel the same way now," said Solot. "We'll just see what happens."


Video by Lindsay Lazarski