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Full text of "A Rural arts sampler : fostering creative partnerships"

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1 




Fostering Creative Partnerships 



State and Regional Arts Agency Initiatives 

Supported by the 

National Endowment for the Arts 



Published by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies 
in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts 



The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) is the 
membership organization of the nation's state and jurisdictional arts 
agencies. The members, through NASAA, participate in the estab- 
lishment of national arts policy and advocate the importance of the 
diverse arts and cultures of the United States. NASAA serves as the 
focus of communication and partnership between the state arts 
agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts, and both arts and 
government service organizations. NASAA provides its member 
agencies with professional and leadership opportunities, as well as 
information to assist them in decision making and 
management. 



Copyright © 1992 by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. 
All rights reserved. 

This publication was produced under a cooperative agreement 
between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National 
Assembly of State Arts Agencies. 

John E. Frohnmayer, Chair 
National Endowment for the Arts 

Edward Dickey, Director 
State & Regional Program 

Andi Mathis, Program Analyst 
State & Regional Program 

Editor: Kimber Craine, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies 
Assistant Editors: Laura Costello, Jill Hauser-Field 
Designer: Laura Costello 



Excerpt from The Village Store Verbatim used with permission of the 
authors, Lawrence Siegal and Valeria Vasilevski. Copyright © 1991. 
All rights reserved. 

For further information about this publication contact the National 
Assembly of State Arts Agencies, 1010 Vermont Ave. Suite 920, 
Washington, DC 20005, 202- 347-6352. 



Printed on recycled paper with soybean ink. 



dim. 



Table of Contents 




) 



1 



Acknowledgments 
Foreword 



Introduction 

On the Trail with the Circuit Rider 

by Jim J agger 



The Arts Revive a Prairie Town 

by Marjorie Casey 

Awakening the Poet in the Farmer 

by Tamara Kuhn 

Museum Without Walls 

by Tonda Gorton and Rudy Guglielmo 

Creating a Home for the Arts 

by Henry Willett 



8 



Celebrating Village Life Through the Arts 14 

by Michael Levine 



22 




30 



36 



42 



j Acknowledgments 



Publications such as this are by nature col- 
laborations. The initial compilation of materi- 
als, from which these chapters were selected, 
was done by Sherry Rouse, a Fellow in the State and Re- 
gional Program at the National Endowment for the Arts 
(NEA). Others at the NEA State and Regional Program 
whose advice, foresight, and wisdom helped make this 
publication a reality include Edward Dickey, director, 
and Andi Mathis, program analyst. For their help in pro- 
viding background materials I wish to thank Nancy 
Fuller of the Smithsonian Institution and R. Gwinn 
Vivian of the Arizona State Museum. 

This work would not have been possible 
without Jill Hauser-Field, for her substantial editorial as- 
sistance, and Laura Costello, for the design and produc- 
tion of this book, and for her editorial assistance. Finally, 
this publication is a tribute to all the state arts agencies' 
staff and directors for their dedication, hard work, and 
imagination, as well as the resourcefulness and the tireless 
efforts of people in rural communities who make the arts 

happen. 

- Kimber D. Craine, 
Editor, 

National Assembly of 
State Arts Agencies 



) 



Foreword 



Promotion of the arts in rural America is one of 
the highest priorities for the National Endow- 
ment for the Arts, as well as for state arts 
agencies and regional organizations. We pursue this pri- 
ority together through a vital and active partnership that 
often involves collaboration with local arts agencies; artist 
residencies; presentation of touring artists; arts education; 
community design initiatives; folk arts programs; and as- 
sistance to developing cultural organizations. Essential to 
the success of these efforts has been the national leader- 
ship provided by the arts endowment, as well as the skill 
and experience of state and regional arts agencies in serv- 
ing their small communities. The most important ele- 
ment, however, has been the cultural vitality present in 
so much of rural America. 

The following chapters describe only a few of 
the many successful projects that could be used to dem- 
onstrate the power of the arts to bring new life to small 
towns, celebrate bonds of heritage and common experi- 
ence, and give creative expression to shared values. 

-Jonathan Katz, -Edward Dickey, 
Executive Director, Director, 

National Assembly of State and Regional Program 

State Arts Agencies National Endowment for the Arts 



) 



ntroduction 



A 



unifying theme of the diverse stories in this 
volume might be that "big dreams are not 



confined to large cities." Art is as much at 
home in rural communities as in the glittering concert 
halls or imposing museums of the big city. The rural arts 
activities highlighted here demonstrate that art is part of 
the fabric of each community. Culture gives each of these 
places — rural communities in Kansas, Vermont, New- 
Hampshire, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona, 
and Georgia — its individuality and gives expression to its 
inhabitants' traditions, values and the events of 
their lives. 

Many of the small communities described in 
this book are struggling to preserve their cultural and 
economic identities. Since World War II, rural commu- 
nities have seen their limited human and financial re- 
sources erode with each year, until some of them have 
disappeared completely. Today 75.2 percent of the U.S. 
lives in urban areas. What this means for audiences, rural 
artists and arts organizations is that not only must they 
surmount the poverty, sparse population and isolation 
that often characterize these areas, but artists and arts or- 
ganizations must also compete for resources with their 
more numerous, and often better-known, urban 
counterparts. 



Given such challenges it is especially notewor- 
thy that rural America is so culturally vital. This is due to 
the perseverance and imagination of rural communities, 
which in many cases are assisted by the state and regional 
arts agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts 
(NEA). Every state and territory has a state arts agency 
supported by state and federal funds to develop its cul- 
tural resources. Although these agencies' purposes vary, 
they are each dedicated to assisting and supporting artists 
in creating their work, strengthening and developing arts 
organizations, and ensuring that the state's cultural re- 
sources benefit and are accessible to all its citizens. 

It is to meet these goals, especially the last, 
that the 56 state arts agencies, except for the urban Dis- 
trict of Columbia, support rural arts activities through 
both financial and technical assistance. Of these, 31 have 
specific rural arts programs and 13 others have a rural fo- 
cus. The remainder have a full- or part-time staff person 
whose responsibilities include rural issues. In 1989 state 
arts agencies awarded 9,681 grants totalling more than 
$37 million for rural arts projects. This accounted for 31 
percent of all the grants given by the state arts agencies. 
These grants reached more than 20 million people in 
more than 2,000 communities across the country, and 
involved some 22,000 artists. 

In the past two years, 33 state arts agencies 
have either expanded their rural arts activities or devel- 
oped new initiatives. Some examples of new or estab- 
lished state arts agency rural arts projects include: 
) Idaho's Arts in Rural Towns series, which provides 
support for touring and presenting arts events and pre- 
senter training in communities with fewer than 5,000 
people; 

) Virginia's artist residency program in rural commu- 
nity colleges; 



) Indiana's Arts: Rural and Multicultural project 
which supports touring, technical assistance and arts 
projects in counties that have received little or no arts 
funding; 

) Oklahoma's Making Your Own Mark, a self-di- 
rected study and practice guide for older adults to help 
them draw and write from their personal experiences; 
) West Virginia's Rural Arts Initiative that supports 
cultural planning by small communities and develop- 
ment of their local artists and cultural resources. 

The National Endowment for the Arts has 
enhanced and spurred state arts agency rural support, 
particularly through the State and Regional, Locals, Ex- 
pansion Arts and Folk Arts Programs. Each of these pro- 
grams addresses different needs in rural communities in 
partnership with state arts agencies. The Expansion Arts 
Program is funding, through the New Mexico Arts Divi- 
sion, the development and stabilization of several Native 
American organizations, providing support for staff and 
technical assistance. The Folk Arts Program focuses on 
the promotion of traditional arts through its state arts 
agency apprenticeship program, which apprentices stu- 
dents to master artisans in 20 states. 

In the sparsely settled upper Midwest, the 
Locals Program is funding Art Beyond Boundaries. Now 
in its sixth year, this five-state conference offers training 
and a forum for sharing resources and information for 
rural arts councils and organizations. This conference ex- 
emplifies the Locals Program focus on building a net- 
work of community support for arts activities.* It also 
represents the kind of interlocking support for rural arts 
activities that each of these programs seeks to develop 
with state arts agencies. 

Another aspect of this interlocking collabora- 
tion s the funding provided by the State and Regional 
Program. Through this program, state and regional arts 



agencies receive support for their efforts in developing 
and implementing new approaches to serving rural art- 
ists, organizations and communities. These efforts have 
resulted in a host of initiatives nationwide, of which a 
handful are represented here — an arts circuit rider in 
Kansas, a mural in Minnesota, the genesis of a local arts 
council in Georgia, tribal museums in Arizona, touring 
artists in Iowa and South Dakota and creation of new 
works in New Hampshire and Vermont. 

These diverse initiatives and approaches re- 
flect the nature of the communities that each state arts 
agency sought to serve. Each of these chapters illustrates 
what collaboration, between the NEA, state and regional 
arts agencies and community groups, and a small invest- 
ment of money can accomplish in celebrating and pre- 
serving the expressions of rural areas. This partnership 
embraces one of rural America's strengths — building 
upon what you have by using local resources. 

Each of these projects demonstrates that the 
arts are a resource that is often close-at-hand in these 
communities. This book illustrates a few of the many 
ways communities have used the arts, including sparking 
economic revival, preserving traditions and opening new 
worlds of experience. The significance of the arts to the 
residents of these small rural communities is best sum- 
marized by Kansas wheat farmer, Ron Temple, who, re- 
flecting on his involvement with a visiting theater com- 
pany, says, "Six hundred years from now I suppose 
they'll be digging up our bones and wondering what our 
lives were like. I'd like them to know that we had a 
culture uniquely our own... and we had a good time 
doing it." O 

*More information about the important role of local arts agencies in 
serving rural areas is available in Serving the Arts in Rural Areas pub- 
lished by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in collaboration 
with the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies and the National 
Endowment for the Arts. 



© 



L> 



On the Trail with the Circuit Rider 




) "Oklahoma!," June 1991. 

Photo courtesy of Community Arts Council of Council Groye, Kansas. 



by Jim J agger 



In the early 1800s the Great Plains were considered 
to be a vast wasteland known as the "Great Ameri- 
can Desert." Migrating Europeans who were used 
to seeing rugged mountains and vast forests were over- 
whelmed by this immense ocean of rolling hills and end- 
less prairie grasses. It took strong people, hard work and 
cooperative effort to turn the "Great American Desert" 
of the last century into this century's "Breadbasket of the 
World." During this time, the people who stayed and 
made this transition learned to make do with what they 
had, especially when it came to their own cultural ameni- 
ties and identity. They played musical instruments and 
held dances, they gathered around the piano and sang, 
they told stories, they quilted, they traveled to nearby 
towns to watch touring theater productions, they read 
and they dreamed. 

Yet to the people in America's large cities, 
who grew rich on the wealth coming out of the Great 
Plains, the cultural offerings of these rural people ap- 
peared simple, unsophisticated and were not highly re- 
garded. These attitudes have not changed much in the 
last hundred years. You still hear people say, "There's no 
culture outside large cities" and "There's nothing to do 
in small towns." Anyone who has lived in small towns 
knows that neither of these statements is true. That, 
however, hasn't changed the perception of rural cultural 
life in Kansas and other Great Plains states, which is 
viewed in the same way that some 19th-century geogra- 
phers once saw this region — as a desert. 

Three organizations, the Kansas Arts Com- 
mission (KAC), the Association of Community Arts 
Agencies of Kansas and the Cooperative Extension Ser- 
vice are cooperatively seeking to put to rest this myth 
that Kansas's rural communities are culturally barren. 
Through the Rural Arts Program these three agencies are 
supporting cultural programs and activities in small, rural 



communities throughout the state. The emphasis of the 
program is on local involvement, long-term impact and 
artistic quality that is dictated by the community. What 
the KAC didn't want to do was impose an elitist concept 
of what was "good art" on the people with whom they 
worked. Instead, the KAC sought to celebrate through 
this program the indigenous cultural expressions of 
Kansas's rural people, whether painting, community the- 
ater, community vocal groups, quilting or festivals. Ac- 
tivities that involve the community, hence developing 
broad-based support and a feeling of ownership, are what 
make art valuable. To accomplish these objectives, the 
Rural Arts Program emphasized both the cultural aspects 
and the art component of selected projects. 

The Kansas Rural Arts Program, funded in 
part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the 
state Economic Development Initiative funds, was 
started in 1988. Conversations with people from rural 
communities around the state gleaned information about 
the challenges they faced in supporting the arts and how 
best to address the challenges. Unlike the national defini- 
tion of rural as referring to communities with popula- 
tions of under 50,000, Kansas defines rural communities 
as those with populations under 20,000. This reflects the 
fact that the great majority of Kansas's communities 
(584) have populations of between 8 and 5,000 people, 
while there are only 34 towns with populations between 
5,000 and 20,000, and 17 cities with populations of 
20,000 or more. The KAC discovered the needs of these 
communities through field research, a survey, pilot 
projects and conferences. People in rural Kansas wanted 
small grants designed to be easily available for one-time 
opportunities, simpler application forms and more per- 
son-to-person contact with a representative of the Kansas 
Arts Commission. The predominantly volunteer organi- 
zations found in smaller communities considered the 



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complex forms, long lead rimes and the trip to Topeka to 
meet wirh KAC sraffa little daunting. 

The Kansas Rural Arts Program's four goals 
were to create a long-term impact on local cultural life 
and enhance cultural development in rural communities; 
support arts events originating from local community re- 
sources and initiatives in rural communities; develop a 
network of arts organizers, educators and artists in rural 
communities and provide them with information, advice 
and support; and inform arts organizers, educators and 
artists in rural communities about other regional, state 
and federal resources. To accomplish these objectives two 
grant categories were created — a short-term Rural Cul- 
tural Activity Grant of S 1 ,000 or less, and a three-year 
Rural Cultural Development Grant of $7,500 or less, 
both targeted for first-time rural constituencies. 

A newsletter, Rural Initiatives, was created to 
let people know about these grants and other resources 
available to them. Conferences were organized to put 
people in touch wirh other communities facing similar 
challenges, and the KAC developed an easy-to-use "how- 
to" manual, Rural Arts Organizer, wrirten for new organi- 
zations. Finally, a rural arts circuit rider position was cre- 
ated to provide information and technical assistance to 
individuals and organizations working in these small 
communities. 

) The Circuit Rider 

Unlike my historical counterpart, who traveled from 
town to town in a long, black coat spreading the word of 
God, I traveled the state not on horseback, but in an old 
Toyota station wagon. I visited dozens of small commu- 
nities to listen, to share and to support them in develop- 
ing and creating their cultural activities. 

I had spent most of my life in rural Kansas. 
People like myself who grew up on farms have seen the 



qualiry of their lives change. They work more hours just 
to break even, many no longer know their neighbors and 
in some cases, urban life is beginning to encroach on the 
local way of life. Yet the biggest and most obvious change 
is that small towns have truly died out in terms of com- 
merce: this occurred in towns with populations of 500 
or under after World War II, and in towns of 1,000 to 
3,000 during the 1950s. Those towns of 5,000 to 
15,000 people, which were jusr hanging on in the 1980s, 
are now in danger of going the way of these 
other communities. 

What many of these towns realize is that they 
must take an active role in ensuring survival. So arts 
events — theater programs, festivals, arts exhibitions and 
the like — are often seen as good investments by local 
businesses and officials. As a circuit rider, I would assist 
these communities in looking at how they could extend 
the impact of the minimal amount of grant money of- 
fered by the program. Most often we did this by finding 
ways to involve as many different people from the com- 
munity in these projects as possible. To borrow a phrase 
often used by one of our partners in this project, the 
KAC was trying to help these communities get "more 
corn out of an acre" or in this case, more culture. 

The communities I worked with in my al- 
most two years as a circuit rider were often like Norcatur. 
A town of 1 92 people in the High Plains region of 
northwest Kansas, Norcatur is almost six hours from the 
capital of Topeka, where the KAC offices are located. In 
this part of the state the roads are straight lines vanishing 
into the horizon and it is a place where locals often say, 
"In winter the only thing standing berween the North 
Pole and Kansas are a few cows." Norcatur has a grain el- 
evator, a gas station, a cooperative cafe and a hardware 
store. One of the nice things Norcatur has going for it is 
a school building with a gymnasium. The school was 



taken over by the town after it was abandoned by the 
school district. Partly because of this school, Norcatur was 
selected four years ago by Cornerstone Theater, a nation- 
ally known theater company from New York City, as a 
site for a residency. Cornerstone had done a number of 
such residencies in similar rural areas around the country. 
Norcatur's school provided the company with a place to 
live and perform; such a facility was hard to find in many 
rural communities of this size. 

The Cornerstone residency was so successful 
that a year later the newly-formed Norcatur Arts and Hu- 
manities Commission applied for a $1,000 KAC Rural 
Cultural Activity Grant to stage their own community 
theater production. They planned on producing Lorca's 
The Shoemaker's Prodigious Wife. The idea for the choice 
of the script was Cornerstone's, but the final product was 
the community's, because it incorporated situations that 
were real for the community. 

A key figure in this grant request was Ron 
Temple, a local wheat farmer who had become an actor 
and director during the Cornerstone residency. Ron's 
conversion to theater took place when, while getting foot- 
age for NBC television, some members of the company 
asked if they could ride on his combine. 

"I told them that I wasn't too interested in be- 
ing in the play," Ron reflects now. "But they said I could 
probably get a part if I wanted. So I went to the school 
house where they were meeting and read for them. I 
didn't feel like I did very well, but they gave me one of 
the leads." He says, with a laugh, that his being chosen for 
the part might have something to do with his size. "I'm 
about 6 foot 8 inches tall. Before I got up to 300 pounds, 
I was 6'9", but I think I've shrunk about an inch." 

Ron stayed in touch with Cornerstone when 
it left Norcatur. So a year later when Norcatur decided to 
apply for a grant to stage The Shoemakers Prodigious Wife, 



I spoke to Ron about what the community was doing 
and what it wanted to do with this production. We also 
talked about how much the production would cost and 
other details. Then we sat down and wrote the grant ap- 
plication. My job was to keep Ron and the others in- 
volved on track, to help them expand their vision while 
using the resources at hand and to be supportive. In 
some ways the recognition by the state arts agency that 
what the Norcatur citizens were doing was important 
was as valuable to them as the money. 

The Shoemakers Prodigious Wife involved al- 
most everyone in the community, including a cast of 40 
actors, ranging in age from 7 to 83 years old, and a crew 
of between 20 and 30 . The play ran three nights. On 
the first night ticket sales were limited to 1 00 people be- 
cause the ticket included dinner with the show, which 
was sold-out. The next two nights the show was also 
sold-out — about 200 seats each night. 

In addition to the fact that almost 70 to 80 
percent of the community was involved in some way 
with the production, the play provided a rare opportu- 
nity for all the kids in the community to do something 
together. It was an unusual situation because half of the 
kids in town go to school in Oberlin and the other half 
go to school in Norton. 

After its success with the first grant, Norcatur 
applied for and received a Rural Cultural Development 
Grant of $7,500 to help pay the expenses of a Corner- 
stone project. This time Cornerstone brought in per- 
formers from each of the communities with which they 
had worked before. The theater company and the extra 
actors lived in Norcatur for six weeks developing an ad- 
aptation of The Winters Tale. The expanded company 
performed the play in Norcatur and then took it on the 
road to each of the other communities, as well as New 
York, Boston and Washington, D.C. 



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"I think it was a success," Ron observes with a 
chuckle. "We had all sorts of different people, from all 
over the country, and nobody killed anybody." He adds, 
seriously. "It was a great opportunity. We were in each of 
the towns long enough to really get to know the 
people there." 

This year the Norcatur Arts and Humanities 
Commission is planning to do a production of Quitters. 
In conjunction with that, they'll be holding quilting 
classes for people interested in learning more about this 
practical, but expressive art form. 

"I think the important thing in what we're 
doing," Ron says, "is involving so many different people. 
In a town this size, you're going to be using a lot of the 
same people, but each time we do a production, we get 
more people involved. Where else can you do something 
that has the age range that we had in 'Shoemaker,' where 
everybody's part is important to its success. It really has 
brought the town together. . .Six hundred years from 
now I suppose they'll be digging up our bones and won- 
dering what our lives were like. I'd like them to know 
that we had a culture uniquely our own. . .and we had a 
good time doing it." 

A common thread that unites the people in- 
volved in the Rural Arts Program is the sense of local 
pride in their communities. This pride in place is evident 
in another community I worked with called Council 
Grove, population 2,300. As proof that big dreams are 
not confined to large cities, this small community hired 
Dennis Arnold as a full-time convention and visitors bu- 
reau representative a few years ago. Part of his job was to 
try to find money to help promote the town's tourism 
sites, which included 12 national historic sites from the 
town's days as a rendezvous point for travelers using the 
Santa Fe Trail. The KAC rural arts grants were a source 
of funds that this community used to full advantage. 



Since 1975 the town's art council had been 
very active, often serving as a presenter organization, i.e., 
bringing in performances from outside the community. 
As an arts council board member with an interest in the- 
ater, Dennis saw an opportunity to "expand the program 
to take advantage of all the local talent and to get the 
community more involved." This intent was supported 
by a Rural Cultural Development Grant of $7,500. 

With this small amount of money, Council 
Grove made tremendous strides in cultivating commu- 
nity involvement. Among the projects that the council 
has started are: a community theater; an adult commu- 
nity band; artists-in-residence to teach acting, stage 
movement and story telling; workshops in guitar, stained 
glass making, quilting, photography, oil painting, dance, 
basket weaving and autobiography writing; a local talent 
"Concert in the Park" summer program; renovation of a 
one-room school house for workshops and performances; 
and a metal sculpture of a covered wagon done by 
local welders. 

As Genell Arnold, former president of the arts 
council said, "We wanted to find what artistic needs and 
talents people had, and then see how we could help. It 
was pointed out that lots of people play a musical instru- 
ment through high school and then never play again. We 
got a commitment from the local band director to run a 
summer program for people who wanted to dig their old 
instruments out of the attic and get involved in a com- 
munity-wide band. That first year we had 24 people sign 
up, and it has grown ever since." 

"That's the way we try to do it," Arnold con- 
tinues. "Sometimes we bring in an instructor from out- 
side, like for the acting and stage movement residencies. 
But usually we find that we have people in the area who 
have the skills needed and are happy to share." 



"We have tried to make everything that we've 
been involved with self-sufficient," says Stan Hirschler, 
the current president of the council. "While not every- 
thing can pay its own way, we think it is important that 
as many as can, do. Getting people involved is the best 
way to do that." With a chuckle he adds, "We even get 
credit for things we're not involved with. The paper says 
we're the most active organization in town. Having a di- 
verse program that responds to the needs and desires of 
the folks here in town makes that possible. People want 
to be a part of what we're doing." 

What these people are doing is what the Kan- 
sas Rural Arts Program is all about. In the two years since 
its inception, the KAC has awarded almost 1 00 grants to 
nurture and develop indigenous resources for cultural ac- 



tivities. In rural communities all across Kansas, people 
are working together, through the arts, to define and de- 
sign the quality of life they want. They value their culture 
and heritage and they know that the arts are critical to 
preserving what is important to them and to passing that 
on to future generations. They appreciate that the arts are 
vital to promoting understanding between cultures and 
that doing art activities with their friends and neighbors 
strengthens their communities and gives meaning to 
their lives. The arts can and do flourish in even the small- 
est places on the plains of Kansas. O 

Jim Jagger and his wife own their own business, Arts & Images, Inc., in 
Lawrence, Kansas. He is the former rural arts circuit rider for the 
Kansas Arts Commission. 



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2 1 Celebrating Village Life Through the Arts 




.) Muralist Karen Becker, elementary school students and senior citizens joined together 
to create the Rutland Bicentennial MuraU 1991, for their town of Rutland, Vermont. 
Photo courtesy of Chaffee An Center 



by Michael Levine 



In Vermont and New Hampshire today villages 
and towns dot the hills and winding river valleys 
that separate ridges of weathered mountains. Hav- 
ing fewer than two million residents between them and 
no city with a population over 100,000, the two states 
are predominantly rural. For artists this has presented the 
dual problems of isolation and a lack of major cultural 
institutions and corporations that can provide support. 
Survival for many artists has meant pursuing careers in 
non-arts fields and focusing their creative energies on 
community theater, choruses, dance and exhibitions. 

These community arts are the core of New 
England's artistic heritage and embody the commonly 
accepted "make do or do without" philosophy. Quilting 
bees, Saturday-night dances known as kitchen tunks, holi- 
day parades, story telling and band concerts on the town 
green were the heart and soul of traditional village life. At 
the same time there has always been great interest in 
bringing visiting artists into the community. Well into 
this century, even the smallest villages supported opera 
houses, and an informal network of presenters ensured 
that quality performances would tour throughout 
the region. 

Although populations have shifted and land 
use has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, the 
tradition of community arts still flourishes. In New 
Hampshire and Vermont, the state arts councils have re- 
cently funded two different approaches to strengthening 
that heritage. 

In the fall of 1990, the Vermont Council on 
the Arts awarded 1 1 Community Arts Grants through a 
new program supported in part by the National Endow- 
ment for the Arts (NEA). The awards were part of the 
council's efforts to demonstrate that the arts are as essen- 
tial to town life as fire trucks and snowplows. Each 
project reflected the unique characteristics of the com- 



munity involved. The program helped broaden citizens' 
understanding of what goes into creating original works, 
offered opportunities for community members to work 
with professional artists, and most importantly, created 
works that will have lasting significance. 

At about the same time, the New Hampshire 
State Council on the Arts received similar funding from 
the NEA to "stimulate the creation of a new, interdisci- 
plinary, collaborative work, using New Hampshire as its 
source and inspiration." The New Hampshire council se- 
lected a joint proposal from a composer and a writer to 
develop "The Village Store" project. "Due to limited re- 
sources, the council has never had the opportunity to 
commission a new work," explained Judy Rigmont, 
touring/community arts coordinator at the New Hamp- 
shire State Council on the Arts. "This grant allowed us to 
fund a project that would be portable, adaptable to dif- 
ferent settings, collaborative and reflective of the fabric of 
rural community life in New Hampshire." 

While the two state arts councils took very 
different approaches to serving their rural constituencies, 
both provided an opportunity for these underserved 
communities to achieve a voice through the arts. 

) Village Life as Opera 

It's turning cool quickly, but the threat of rain has passed 
on this mid-September evening. I'm driving on a twist- 
ing, two-lane road, climbing my way out of the Con- 
necticut River Valley. Most of the open farmland re- 
mains behind me, the road is now lined with dense, 
second-growth forest broken by village centers every few 
miles. Gas station/video rental/general stores are about all 
that's still open, even though it's barely 7 p.m. I'm head- 
ing to a dot on the map with the unlikely name of East 
Westmoreland, looking for Mike's Auto Repair. 



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It's preview night for The Village Store Verba- 
tim, and as promised its creators have returned to their 
source of inspiration for this debut performance. Fan 
belts, radiator hoses and assorted spare parts still hang 
from the walls, although the tool boxes have been pushed 
back from the two work bays to accommodate the 50 or 
so folding chairs. The overhead doors are open and 10 
benches are outside to provide seating for the overflow 
crowd. Most of the audience has heard about this piece 
as it was developing over the course of the last nine 
months. Mike is here, as are friends and relatives of the 
cast and curious neighbors. 

In the course of the hour-long production, 
rural New England comes to life. Writer/director Valeria 
Vasilevski developed the libretto based on actual conver- 
sations recorded at town meetings, folk dances, general 
stores, auto repair shops and diners. Composer/conduc- 
tor Lawrence Siegel used these words to create an opera 
in five parts that incorporates traditional New England 
dance music, electronic minimalist music, jazz, gospel 
and hard-driving blues. The music is augmented by se- 
lected tapes of the original voices, including a town meet- 
ing moderator who reminds us not to block the fire exits 
and then invites us to join in the pledge of allegiance. 

The singers (two lead voices are effectively 
balanced by a nine-voice chorale) can barely fit up front 
amidst the floor jacks, grease guns and engine blocks. 
The tight quarters seem appropriate, reflecting the tiny 
communities that are squeezed in among the hills of 
New England. This work is about those places and the 
people who live in them. It starts with coffee and muffins 
at the Tumble Inn Diner. The wind is whipping snow 
through the door; corned beef hash with eggs, toast and 
coffee is the breakfast special; and the conversation is 
about pop music, the lottery, the Gulf War and taxes. 



"The chance daily-meeting places in small 
towns everywhere spark conversations on topics great 
and small that are both local and universal," Siegel ex- 
plained. "We tried to capture what people really talk 
about and let the audience eavesdrop. By listening to 
other people's lives and concerns we begin to see our- 
selves on the stage. In a way, this is about breaking down 
barriers between artist and audience." 

In scene two of the opera, Maria and her 
mother wait on customers in their general store. 
Through their brief dialogue we learn an incredible 
amount about the economic life cycle of a New England 
mill town from its past boom to current bust. What's 
made particularly clear are the effects the economy has 
on the vitality of the townspeople. Between smiling at 
customers, Maria reveals her true thoughts: 

"My father? 

In those days, he had 

Bushels full of produce on display outside. 

He had local fruits and just-picked berries. 

He had fresh-baked bread from Rutland and big 
pizzas, too! 

He was the first to sell squares of homemade Sicilian 
pizza right here. 

He had provolone and salami hanging from those 
bare hooks. 

He had big stalks of bananas hanging up there. 

He had a roaster for hot peanuts over there. 

He had locally-made candy mints... handmade pepper- 
mints and wintergreen mints 

Delicious! Absolutely wonderful! 

Homemade, everything big and pipes and tobacco and 
fruit baskets too!" 

Looking around at the audience I see heads 
nod. They understand all too well the changes Maria is 




The Village Store Verbatim on opening night at Mike's Auto Repair in East West- 
moreland, New Hampshire. This original music/ theater work was created in New 
Hampshire to reflect the interest and concerns of local citizens. 
Photo courtesy of New Hampshire State Council on the Arts 



voicing. For many of them, the joys and difficulties of 
rural life were shared by a community that no longer ex- 
ists. But this is not a romantic work rooted in nostalgia. 
By reaching deep into the social makeup of small towns, 
The Village Store reveals their many facets. 

The Gulf War, murder and the school board 
are hot topics in scene three, set in Mike's Auto Repair 
Shop. As Mike and "the guys" are working and talking 
about the new benefits package for the teachers, their 
dialogue illustrates the social conflict in small communi- 
ties. In his soliloquy, Mike says: 

"So when they talk raises they just tell you 
what the pay raise is, they don't mention the benefits. 
Last year they said 6 percent — that's reasonable — but 
with the benefits it was 1 3 percent. Tell me the truth and 
let me decide, but don't lie to me or misinform me be- 
cause I'm payin' for it! It stirs me up, I'll tell you that!" 

The Village Store Verbatim breaks down barri- 
ers on many levels. In scene four, the singers trade leads 
with the band during a contradance, which features one 
of New England's finest fiddlers. 

"Opera audiences are often accused of being 
highbrow," Siegel says. "My approach is to encourage 
audiences to leave their prejudices at the door and accept 
what is presented. Thus, within a music-theater piece I 
have incorporated opera, as well as folk music — actually 
juxtaposing the high and low art in the same scene." 

No institution is as sacred or as symbolic to 
New Englanders as a town meeting. In scene five, Siegel 
combines dialogue from a town meeting with music 
evoking a gospel revival. The result is a sense that these 
annual forums are as much a spiritual renewal as they are 
an exercise in democracy. Babies cry; the moderator 
complains that it's very difficult for a town to operate 
without people running for key positions; voters argue 
over the cost of recycling, approve playing basketball in 



the town hall and are generally unhappy that the state is 
making the town pay to fix a rusted bridge. 

The show is over. The singers and musicians, 
all professionals, stand in their white jackets and black 
Mike's Auto Repair t-shirts receiving well-earned ap- 
plause. There's a public debut tomorrow night at the 
Claremont Opera House and, if all goes as planned, the 
production will tour throughout New England. But at 
this moment, the line between art, artist, audience and 
community has dissolved. This musical snapshot has 
taken a slice of New England's contemporary rural life 
and exposed it for all to see from a new perspective. 

"Our hope is to bring this to town halls, com- 
munity centers and other places that don't usually host 
arts events," Rigmont explains, "and we are prepared to 
fund 60 percent of the production costs. Through our 
Rural Arts Program, we plan to support community resi- 
dencies of up to five days, during which Mr. Siegel 
would use The Village Store as a model to guide partici- 
pants in creating their own work, set in their own com- 
munity. We also hope to promote discussions about 
New England folk life as an inspiration for literature, the- 
ater and music. A project like this, which so well reflects 
the lives of people in our smaller communities, will help 
further the arts council's goals of developing new audi- 
ences and presenters, as well as provide employment for 
our professional artists." 

) Pieces of the Past Get a New Face 
In Vermont, community arts projects have taken a grass- 
roots approach. Murals, plays, oral histories, songs, mo- 
saics and sculptures have been created that reflect the 
communities from which they have sprung. More im- 
portantly, these works have been generated through the 
cooperative efforts of artists and residents of all ages and 
levels of experience. 



"The council encouraged new partnerships 
with these community arts projects," explained Anne 
Sarcka, community arts officer at the Vermont Council 
on the Arts. "We limited each community to one pro- 
posal and encouraged groups to work together. Through 
informal discussions, notices in local newspapers and pre- 
sentations at public meetings, ideas began to take shape. 
Some of the applications were inspired by Vermont's bi- 
centennial in 1991, but all were evaluated on their ability 
to involve a broad cross section of citizens in the wonder- 
ful process of creating art. For the council this is a way to 
encourage continued community funding of the arts and 
to make the arts a part of the everyday lives of all 
our citizens." 

) An Art Park in Hardwick 

Hardwick is among Vermont's poorest towns in terms of 
per capita income (the current median gross income is 
about $13,000, compared to $19,000 statewide), but is 
one of its richest when it comes to history. It's located at 
the edge of the state's "Northeast Kingdom," an area of 
struggling dairy and vegetable farms, large timber hold- 
ings, abandoned quarries and few paved roads. Hard- 
wick's population peak was during the early 20th century 
when the nearby granite quarries kept thousands em- 
ployed and brought many skilled workers from Italy and 
other European nations. The period of prosperity gave 
rise to a stunning library, an opera house and the estab- 
lishment of one of Vermont's longest-running 
weekly newspapers. 

More recently, Hardwick has had a reputa- 
tion as a rough town, but over the past few years the resi- 
dents have been working hard to change that image. In 
the mid-1980s, most of the village center was designated 
a historic district on the Register of National Historic 
Places, and the entire streetscape was improved. When 



the arts council's call for proposals for Community Arts 
Grants was issued, it helped stimulate conversations 
around town that focused on the arts. 

The result was a plan to develop an Art Park 
on Main Street located on the site of the former Idle 
Hours Theater, a building which had symbolized Hard- 
wick's decline. At one time the showplace for the region, 
the theater was turned into a soft porn venue during the 
1970s. It burned in 1979, and all that remains on the 
empty lot is the stage, now at the mercy of the elements. 

Plans for the Art Park include the creation of 
festive banners and wind socks, a schedule of family films 
to be shown outdoors, staging of local and visiting per- 
formers, and public readings. The centerpiece of the park 
will be a mosaic wall inset with glass masks cast from the 
faces of a dozen Hardwick residents. To encourage the 
involvement of a broad cross section of the community, 
the mosaic will be created from broken pieces of china 
contributed by residents. In addition, classes have been 
offered for those interested in helping complete the 
actual panels. 

A new enthusiasm for Hardwick has emerged, 
symbolized by the broad base of cooperation for this 
project and fueled by the prospect for a permanent place 
for the arts in Hardwick's future. 

) Chelsea Composes a Musical History 
Most of these arts projects involved community mem- 
bers of all ages in the creation of the works. For instance, 
the town of Chelsea, with about a 1,000 residents, suc- 
ceeded in bringing professional artists, elementary school 
children and senior citizens together in a project that re- 
sulted in an original musical celebrating the town's past 
and present. The material for the play, titled Back When? 
A Child's Eye View of Chelsea History, was based on oral 
histories collected by the students during Vermont's 



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bicentennial year. The final production, held in the 
packed town hall, included scenes depicting what 
Chelsea was like before European settlers arrived, farm 
life 200 years ago, and contemporary Chelsea. 

From The Shire Town, a song written by sec- 
ond graders for Back When? : 

"Birds, trees and mountains of green 
Running rivers and bubbling streams, 
The sunlight floods us with marvelous beams 
In the wondrous village of Chelsea." 

"The words and ideas came from a year of 
collaboration between teachers, students, visiting artists 
and town residents both old and new," poet and play- 
wright Cora Brooks says as she describes the process. "I 
worked closely with a handful of students and we used 
these elements as a quilter would a pile of cloth scraps. 
We pieced them together in many combinations, until 
they exhibited the Chelsea that had been revealed 
through everyone's eyes. It was a wonderful way for the 
kids in our community to see where they came from and 
where we are headed." 

) Generations Join to Paint Memories 
In Vermont's capital city of Montpelier (the smallest 
capital city of the 50 states with a population of 8,000), 
and neighboring Barre, a project brought elementary 
school students to two nursing homes for joint art classes 
with the seniors. Joy Spontak, a professional artist and 
teacher, worked with the groups in weekly sessions for 
about six months, helping them create paintings from 
images of their lives in Vermont. For the seniors (ranging 
up to age 103), these paintings reflected the history of 
their towns, while the students concentrated on familiar 
landscape features that hold special meaning for them. 



The project succeeded in bringing people to- 
gether who otherwise have too few chances to interact, 
given the divisions present in modern society. It helped 
transform the image of the nursing home by opening it 
up to community members of all ages, and promoted co- 
operative relationships that erased the psychological bar- 
riers that existed between people. Everyone involved, re- 
gardless of prior experience, was encouraged to express 
his or her self by creating at least one painting. Through- 
out the fall and winter students and seniors worked side 
by side bringing to the canvas their images of homes, 
barns, fields, mountains, community buildings and the 
changing seasons. 

"I don't look for talent in my students," 
Spontak summarized, "I look for interest. We are all cre- 
ative, and can be as long as we are alive." 

"One of my elder students did a painting of a 
place she had lived. In it, she had painted New 
Hampshire's Twin Mountain with Vermont's Camel's 
Hump adjacent to it. These peaks are more than 50 
miles apart. When I asked her about it, she said at differ- 
ent times in her life she had lived near both places. I told 
her that was proof that artists are very powerful. They 
can move mountains!" 

The project resulted in Visual Memories, an 
exhibition that opened at the Vermont Historical Society 
and toured the region's town and city halls, schools and 
senior centers. The interpretations and memories it con- 
tains will provide a treasure trove for generations 
to come. 

) Rutland's Bicentennial Mural 
In Rutland, Vermont's second largest city with a popula- 
tion of 18,000, seniors and students were again linked 
through a community arts project. Celebrating the city's 
past and present, the Rutland Bicentennial Mural was ere- 



ated from four four-by-eight-foot panels. The hands-on 
project brought together professional muralist Karen 
Becker, about 20 of Rutland's senior population and 
many of its eight-, nine- and ten-year-olds to conceive, 
design and paint the panels. Giving all the participants 
artistic license, regardless of their training or ability, was 
the project's strength. Their personal expression of how 
they view where they live makes it a wonderfully varied 
and vibrant work. 

The project coordinators are dedicated to 
bringing this artwork to where people live and work. The 
opening display at city hall was a festive event and the 
mural continues to tour throughout the region to hospi- 
tals, shopping malls, nursing homes, schools, the library 
and downtown businesses. "There was such wonderful 
cooperation and enthusiasm for this undertaking," ex- 
plained Susan Farrow, director of Rutland's largest gal- 
lery. "Our supplies were donated, the city helped pay our 
expenses and the recreation department provided the 
space. This is art, it is culture and it is what helps tie a 
community together." 



) Linking Past and Future 
While the peaceful tree-lined New England village re- 
mains an American archetype, the communities beneath 
that veneer display the stress cracks of continuous 
change. The traditions of past generations are often 
anachronisms in the context of today's society. Yet, the 
values they represent are the heart and soul of rural life. 

Each of these projects evolved in unique ways, 
yet all of them provided a link between their communi- 
ties' past and present. They encouraged a wide variety of 
citizens to explore and interpret their cultural heritage 
and keep it meaningful for a new generation. These arts 
projects produced some remarkable visions of commu- 
nity life, but their most lasting impact will result from 
the tremendous enthusiasm and pride that was generated 
by community members joining together to help those 
visions take form. O 

Michael Levine is the public information officer at the Vermont Council 
on the Arts. He is a former free-lance journalist and broadcast 
professional. 



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The Arts Revive a Prairie Town 




J With the help and enthusiasm of local residents, artist Gary Fey captured the history of 
Good Thunder, Minnesota, in this resin-encased silk painting, Portrait of a Village. 
Phoco by Dan Jones 



by Marjorie Casey 



There's a certain feeling of pride in the citizens 
of Good Thunder. Although it's a modest 
vanity, characteristic of native Minnesotans, 
it's unmistakable when the subject of the arts comes up, 
and how the arts put this rural town of 561 people on 
the map — the world map. 

The admiration is evident on Bud Barnard's 
face when he points out his relatives featured on a mural 
looming 75 feet over Main Street. A local farmer, Bud 
says, "I'm the fourth generation living in Good Thunder. 
John Graham and his wife Loretta Barnard Graham were 
the owners of the town's first hotel." Bud's personal his- 
tory is also memorialized on Good Thunder's second 
new arts attraction, a painting on silk, at the other end of 
the business district. 

Located on fertile plains in south central 
Minnesota, Good Thunder is just 12 miles from the col- 
lege town of Mankato and 90 miles southwest of Minne- 
apolis-Saint Paul. Before 1987 few people outside of 
Blue Earth County had ever heard of Good Thunder. 
Now attention is focused on the town, and the catalyst is 
the arts. In the last four years media coverage has 
extended throughout the United States, and following a 
recent BBC broadcast, this small town tasted interna- 
tional fame. 

The history of Good Thunder echoes that of 
thousands of other small towns scattered throughout the 
Midwest. In the mid- 1800s when German and Irish im- 
migrants began to work the rich farmland, the Indians 
were pushed to reservations further west. The town is 
named after two different native Americans, both known 
as Good Thunder, who once lived there. One, a Winne- 
bago chief, settled on the banks of the Maple River; the 
other, a Dakota Sioux, was baptized a Christian and 
fought on both sides of the battle during the Dakota Up- 
rising of 1862. 



From 1 900 until mid-century, the area 
around Good Thunder was dotted with family farms 
and the town bustled with activity. The railroad was the 
quickest method of transportation between Good Thun- 
der and larger towns, and local businesses thrived as 
farmers brought their trade to the banks, hardware stores, 
butcher shops, restaurants and taverns. Although the 
population of Good Thunder was never much larger 
than it is today, the town once had seven churches to 
serve the surrounding community. 

Like other farming towns, Good Thunder 
grew just large enough to sustain the people in the area. 
Later, when paved roads spanned rural America and 
people traveled farther for supplies, Good Thunder's 
businesses began to suffer. Most recently the recession 
and drought of the 1980s spelled economic ruin for 
many small farms. The town's business district was re- 
duced to a handful of storefronts, and the community 
faced a gloomy decline. Unlike many towns, Good 
Thunder refused to give up. As the farm economy con- 
tinued its nosedive, several residents decided to try some- 
thing different to encourage economic development and 
boost the town's slumping spirit. 

When John and Ann Christenson arrived in 
Good Thunder 1 5 years ago, Main Street featured a col- 
lection of deteriorating buildings. John Christenson, a li- 
brarian by profession, was elected mayor of Good Thun- 
der, and immediately investigated possible solutions to 
the economic decline. Not fully expecting to be success- 
ful, he requested a $30,000 grant for economic develop- 
ment from the county. The grant was awarded to Good 
Thunder, and his wife Ann, who has a background in 
public relations and an interest in the arts, agreed to co- 
ordinate an economic development plan for the town. 

In 1985 she formed the Good Thunder De- 
velopment Corporation (GTDC), a nonprofit member- 



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ship organization with an elected board of directors, and 
the group set out to identify the town's selling points. 
They were looking for a way to enrich the quality of life 
for current residents, foster community pride and project 
an image of vitality. Recognizing that Good Thunder's 
location on a dead-end highway was unlikely to lure 
commerce or tourism, the GTDC chose an especially 
creative solution. 

Although Good Thunder was a fairly ordi- 
nary Minnesota town, it had a unique name and a repu- 
tation as a place for the arts. The town once featured a 
pottery shop that attracted buyers from the Twin Cities. 
It also had two antique stores well-known throughout 
the area, and for several years the region claimed one of 
the largest chapters in the League of Minnesota Poets, 
part of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. 
Even though the antique shops had closed and the pot- 
tery shop planned to move, people still connected the 
name of Good Thunder with the arts. 

While other communities scrambled for new 
industry, the GTDC decided to capitalize on Good 
Thunder's distinctive name and arts reputation in pur- 
suit of an equally ambitious goal: to establish a rural arts 
colony where writers, painters, poets and craftspeople 
would come to create, learn and market their wares. 
They realized the mission was somewhat risky and might 
take years to accomplish, but the alternative meant stag- 
nation or further decline. 

As the grip of the farm crisis tightened and 
the agricultural economy continued to weaken, the 
GTDC came up with an idea. Their inaugural project 
would be to commission a mural for the town's century- 
old Feed and Grain Elevator. Ann Christenson, who in- 
troduced the concept, had always thought Good 
Thunder's most imposing structure could be far more in- 
teresting than a group of grey corrugated steel buildings. 



In early 1987 Valspar Paint sponsored the 
Minnesota Beautiful "Picture it Painted" contest, a com- 
munity improvement project of the Minnesota Depart- 
ment of Trade and Economic Development. The 
GTDC submitted a proposal requesting 1 100 gallons of 
paint for the grain elevator, and was selected as one of 21 
winners in the competition. The total cost of the 
project, in addition to the donated paint valued at more 
than $10,000, was estimated at $14,000. The GTDC 
approached the Region 9 Arts Council, which is one of 
eleven such regional arts councils in Minnesota, for a 
$2,450 grant; an additional $3,500 was donated by 
Good Thunder Feed and Grain and the Golden Sun 
Feed Corporation; and the City of Good Thunder con- 
tributed $500. 

Valspar Paint put the GTDC in touch with 
Ta-Coumba Tyrone Aiken, a muralist from Saint Paul to 
serve as a consultant. He was immediately captivated by 
the idea, and instead of consulting, offered to donate 
one- third of his time to make the mural a reality. Aiken 
had been searching for an opportunity to paint a grain el- 
evator for more than 10 years, so this was a dream come 
true. It would be Aiken's most ambitious work yet, and 
he, along with the GTDC, pursued additional dona- 
tions. Metroquip Corporation of the Twin Cities pro- 
vided a hydraulic lift with an 80-foot arm for half price; 
E-Z Paint of Milwaukee donated all the brushes and roll- 
ers; and Cedar Knoll Farm, a local bed and breakfast, 
provided lodging at a special rate. 

The town was skeptical at first. People 
thought it was ridiculous to spend money on a mural 
when farmers were going broke. Early on, the GTDC 
board had adopted Samuel Johnson's philosophy that 
"nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections 
must be first overcome," but they realized they had to 
win support from the naysayers to ensure the success of 




Good Thunder residents parade down Main Street 
during the annual Pioneer Indian Day Festival, with 
the grain elevator mural, Painting on a Grand 
Design, looming in the background. 
Photo by Marjorie Casey 



the project. They scheduled a town meeting and news 
conference at the Legion Cafe, where Aiken presented 
slides. He discussed the history of murals from around 
the world and shared his plan to paint a collage of "gutsy, 
colorful, high-impact pictures on the elevator." 

After the meeting, people started getting in- 
terested. They began leafing through old albums and col- 
lecting photographs for the artist. Aiken researched the 
town's history, using material from state and local his- 
torical societies, books and newspaper clippings. From 
the beginning the project was committed to artistic qual- 
ity and historical accuracy. In addition to collecting pho- 
tographs, residents contributed information and ideas. 
"People in the community supplied a lot of things, tell- 
ing me about their great-grandfathers, and where they 
used to have a farm, and things like that," says Aiken. Al- 
though it was painted by an outsider, the mural itself 
came from the people. It wasn't foisted on the town by a 
small committee or a temperamental artist from the city. 
Aiken earned the town's trust and respect. 

But it wasn't until the painting was actually 
underway, that the town really took ownership. "When 
we sent out press kits to announce the project, and a 
news helicopter from the Twin Cities landed on Main 
Street, there was a major shift in attitude. People really 
started taking pride," recalls Ann Christenson. Because 
the local economy was extremely depressed, individual 
contributions were not solicited, but unexpectedly they 
began to come in. The first donation of $20 was fol- 
lowed soon by gifts of up to $300 from other individuals 
and businesses. Community involvement was the main 
ingredient for success. 

In August 1987, Aiken started the mural. 
Tided Painting on a Grand Design, its dominant image is 
a 40-foot likeness of the Dakota Chief Good Thunder. 
Gazing north from under a derby hat, he is visible for 



nearly two miles across the flat fields of Blue Earth 
County. Aiken, who measures a stately 6'3", is roughly 
the size of Chief Good Thunder's nose. 

The mural also depicts the town's first hotel, a 
Winnebago Indian encampment, an early steam tractor 
and other images. One of the few scenes not taken from 
old photographs shows youngsters working at computers 
surrounded by growing corn. It is the artist's own vision 
of the future for rural America — a dream that technol- 
ogy, agriculture and small town values can merge and en- 
courage young people to pursue careers in rural towns. 

"Ta-Coumba worked on the mural for two 
summers," says John Christenson, "six weeks the first 
summer and about one month the second. He was a 
good talker, and lots of politicians and reporters came 
down to watch his progress." During those months he 
really got to know Good Thunder, and his warm person- 
ality and team spirit united the entire town. "The eleva- 
tor project brought people together who had been fight- 
ing with each other for years," says Ann Christenson. 
"We were delighted with the response." 

Bob Walters, president of the GTDC and 
owner of the grain elevator, is a determined businessman. 
Although he's not particularly interested in the arts, and 
got involved in the project initially for business purposes, 
he was quite pleased when his elevator appeared on the 
cover of the state elevator directory. 

Aiken painted most of the mural himself, but 
many people from the area wanted to get involved. To 
oblige them he projected a sketch of a Winnebago village 
near the base of the elevator one night, and local teenag- 
ers painted the oudine. Then, on the last weekend of the 
first summer, would-be artists from around the county 
were invited to stop by and help fill in the drawing. 

Today, the grain elevator is a vibrant photo 
collage presenting the history of the town. "It captures 



attention," says Aiken. "It makes people want to come 
into town instead of turning left." One newspaper wrote, 
"The colors are bold and brilliant, the image realistic and 
the effect stunning." The elevator was dedicated in June 
1988 during the town's annual Pioneer Indian 
Day Festival. 

Then, just when Good Thunder residents 
thought the excitement was over, Gary Fey moved to 
town and a second monument to the town's identity was 
shortly underway. A visual artist and Chicago native, Fey 
and his wife were living in a Minneapolis apartment, ex- 
pecting their first child and having no luck finding af- 
fordable housing in the city. While visiting Mankato, 
Fey noticed an ad announcing a home for sale for 
$19,000 in Good Thunder. "I was taken by the name of 
the town. Once I arrived and saw the mural on the grain 
elevator, I thought, these people are into the arts. I can 
do something here." 

A couple of months later he moved in. "The 
town accepted me right away," Fey recalls, "and my ar- 
rival caused a lot of local publicity." He had been living 
in town only one week when he was invited to be Grand 
Marshal for the Pioneer Indian Day Parade. "He was 
very well-accepted," says Ann Christenson, "because he 
made a point of being friendly and outgoing. People here 
don't put themselves out. Newcomers have to take the 
initiative and let the old-timers know they care. That's 
what it takes." 

Before relocating to Minnesota, Fey was a 
free-lance artist in San Diego. His paintings on silk were 
selling to major fashion designers in the U.S. and abroad, 
but Fey had grown tired of the city rat race. "I wanted to 
raise my child in a quieter environment, and because I 
had reps in New York and elsewhere, I figured I could 
live anywhere to do my art." 



A prolific grant writer, Fey applied for several 
projects when he moved to town in May 1989. One was 
a pilot program offered by Arts Midwest, a multistate 
consortium of state arts agencies, called New Partnership 
Grants for Visual Artists. The program, launched with a 
Special Projects Grant from the National Endowment 
for the Arts Visual Arts Program, was designed to sup- 
port new collaborations between artists and communities 
that had not worked together previously. 

The guidelines required a partnership with a 
nonprofit arts organization, so Fey approached the 
GTDC about his idea for an historical monument, and 
once again the town got behind the arts. "The ground 
was already broken for me because people were con- 
verted with the elevator project," recalls Fey. 

Arts Midwest approved his application, and 
he received a $6,000 matching grant to create a silk 
painting portraying the history of Good Thunder. The 
Region 9 Arts Council awarded Fey a $2,500 grant, and 
other local businesses contributed funds to make up the 
match. The City of Good Thunder provided the site and 
labor for erecting the sculpture, and the Good Thunder 
Mothers' Club, along with a local citizen, donated $800 
to install lighting. In addition, many residents and busi- 
nesses supplied time and expertise. The total cost of the 
project was $ 1 2, 1 70. 

Good Thunder residents were again invited 
to participate in the process, further cementing the link 
between the community and the arts. They told family 
stories, searched for more photographs and ultimately se- 
lected the image for the painting. Fey exhibited a series of 
six preliminary drawings in the Good Thunder Cafe and 
invited residents to choose their favorite scene for the fi- 
nal painting. Teachers held classes in the cafe and chil- 
dren discussed the drawings, and after two days of voting 
more than 300 people submitted ballots. 



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The winning composition, tided Portrait of a 
Village, includes Indian chiefs, a frontier soldier, a pio- 
neer woman and a dairy farmer, as well as the public 
school, the Lutheran Church, the train depot and Bud 
Barnard's farm just west of town. "They chose the sketch 
that was the hardest and had the most information in it," 
says Fey. Once the voting was over, the drawings were 
framed and are now part of a rotating exhibit in busi- 
nesses throughout town. 

Fey wanted his painting to address both the 
town's history and commerce of today. "The elevator 
mural focused primarily on the past," comments Fey, 
"but I think the people and the businesses that stick it 
out are also part of the story." 

Originally Fey intended to seal the silk paint- 
ing in bulletproof glass, but realizing moisture might get 
inside, he tried something completely new. Working 
with Keith Kruger, a resin artist from Mankato, Fey 
poured 28 gallons of polyester resin from British Petro- 
leum Chemical into a mold. When it cured, the painting 
was set in place and another batch of resin was poured on 
top. The artwork heated up to 500 degrees, but luckily 
didn't combust. After removal from the mold, the piece 
was buffed to a glasslike luster. Fey calls the result "a 
technological phenomenon. There's not a single piece of 
art on this planet like it. It's the world's first outdoor 
silk mural." 

The process was an experiment in every way. 
To preserve the painting for many years, Fey added a 
chemical ultraviolet filter to retard fading. The specially 
formulated red, yellow and blue dyes are layered on the 
silk, producing a full spectrum of tones and hues that 
have a translucence reminiscent of stained glass. 

The finished mural was mounted between na- 
tive Kasota stone boulders set on a foundation of con- 
crete. The result is an elaborate monument more than 



nine feet high and six feet wide, weighing approximately 
seven tons. One newspaper account described it as "an 
imposing monument of blazing color, unlike anything 
ever before created. Standing in a prominent site on 
Main Street, it will add to the town's slowly developing 
artistic climate." 

Fey says that the process challenged everyone 
by stretching skills and perceptions, and heightening ap- 
preciation for art and history. "Everyone helped — the 
Mothers' Club, City Hall, the Pioneer Indian Day Com- 
mittee, city employees, the bank, individual farmers, the 
masons and local businesses. I worked with all those 
people; we did it together. It's just amazing how the 
community embraced and rallied behind the project," 
remarks Fey. 

Portrait of a Village has reached beyond the 
community of Good Thunder. Like the grain elevator 
mural, it is continually promoted to schools, tour groups 
and the media for both its artistic and educational value. 

Gary Fey plans to stay in Good Thunder as 
long as he can continue to work at his art. "I'm dug in 
here. One of my goals in moving here was to continue to 
be an artist, and somehow I'm extracting an artist's life- 
style out of it." He continues to apply for grants, has 
been exhibiting at arts and crafts shows and teaches 
school residencies throughout southern Minnesota. 

His advice to others planning art projects in 
rural America is "to embrace the town. It takes 90 per- 
cent people-skills to do an art project anywhere. You 
need to eliminate the barrier between people and you 
may have to change their perceptions of artists. If you 
reach out to the community, you will be successful." 

Ann Christenson's advice to small communi- 
ties interested in revitalizing a slumping economy is to 
"know where you're going and what finances you need. 
Every town has something they can build on. It may not 



be the towns name or the arts for everyone, but there's 
usually something that can be promoted." Most impor- 
tantly though, "people need to think beyond their bor- 
ders and dare to take a risk." 

There's more work to be done in Good 
Thunder, but the town definitely has a new optimism, 
more visitors and increased visibility. According to Mavis 
Christensen, who owns and operates the Cedar Knoll 
Bed and Breakfast just outside Good Thunder, "Things 
are building and continuing to happen in a low-key way. 
The impact of the arts on the town cannot be measured 
simply by dollars or the heads of tourists. It's far more 
subtle than that. Although there's no new business yet, 
there has been a mild shift in values and attitudes about 
art. For one thing, schools that never considered artist 
residencies are now bringing in artists. It was a marvelous 
experience for the children to meet someone like Ta- 
Coumba and watch him work. For many it was their 
first exposure to an artist and a black man. He had a Pied 
Piper rapport with all the children, and when he'd walk 
through town he was a striking figure with his straw hat 
and overalls, one strap fastened. They saw him working 
day after day high on the elevator in the intense heat and 
were enchanted." 

New ideas are floating around Good Thunder 
about what should happen next. The GTDC is investi- 
gating another mural project, but details have to be 
worked out between the building owner, the mayor and 
the city. Ann Christenson would like to see one of the 
town's empty buildings converted into an art center with 



studio and exhibit space for artists and arts information 
for the public. Gary Fey would like to produce a poster 
of the monument and use the proceeds to start a grant 
program for public art. "It would be great if we could 
unveil a new art project every year on Pioneer Indian 
Day," says Fey. He would also like to see marketing 
developed for notecards, posters, t-shirts and other high- 
quality products featuring both of Good Thunder's mu- 
rals as well as the work of local artists. 

Although it's true that a flourishing arts envi- 
ronment can attract new residents, improve business and 
nurture existing artistic talent, creating a new image for a 
town to attract development isn't easy. "It takes constant 
leadership and pushing to make it work," remarks 
Christenson. She is no longer a member of the GTDC, 
but is sure there will be new activists to carry the torch. 

Today Good Thunder is often viewed as a 
neighborhood or suburb of Mankato, and because the 
town no longer serves as a marketplace for farmers, it 
must become something else. The momentum is cer- 
tainly building, and when the time is right something 
else will happen. Until then, Good Thunder has two 
new artistic tributes to its history — and to its course for 
the future. The story is far from over. O 

Marjorie Casey is the public information officer for the Minnesota State 
Arts Board and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is the founder of 
Minnesota Arts Communicators, an association of public relations and 
marketing professionals in the arts. 



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4 1 Awakening the Poet in the Farmer 




Musician Phil Baker enjoys a good laugh with his students as they prepare for a community 
concert of music and theater in Clear Lake, South Dakota. 
Photo courtesy of South Dakota Arts Council 



by Tamara Kuhn 



Why did I say I'd do it?" moaned Carolyn 
Kressler. Three months ago she promised her 
best friend, Margaret, that she would go to 
the Touring Arts Team workshop. Now she dreaded it. 
"Expose yourself to the arts," Margaret had quipped. 
Carolyn didn't feel like exposing herself to anything — 
she dreaded going. She had real problems, and she didn't 
need to create any. 

For the past two years she and her husband 
Earl had been scraping by, finding just enough money 
for groceries and borrowing thousands of dollars for next 
year's crops. To make matters worse, the bank was un- 
easy because of last year's drought and this year's flood- 
ing, which meant they might call in the loan. On top of 
it all, their two boys were in college studying to be some- 
thing other than farmers, not because they wanted to, 
but because they had to to survive. Carolyn had a lot on 
her mind and the Touring Arts Team workshop was not 
high on her list. But she had promised, so she went. 

The workshop poet recited poems by Yeats in 
an Irish brogue, making Carolyn think of the land in an 
unexpected way, churning her feelings and bringing 
them closer to the surface. He was not what she expected 
of an artist. He was a farmer with five children, strug- 
gling with the land and a family as well as with words. 
She was surprised at how easily he enabled her to release 
the fears that were seeping into her life. He was so gentle, 
caring and funny, kind of round and soft — so unlike her 
thin, leathery husband, who hardly smiled anymore and 
had rarely left the house in the last two weeks. 

The poet cultivated her thoughts, pulling out 
her poem line by line, asking: "What does freshly 
plowed earth smell like? What does a field of corn sound 
like? Remember the first time you accomplished some- 
thing?" He asked the questions quickly, planting the 
seeds of ideas, and wrote down her answers as fast as she 



said them, while shaping the lines of her poem as if he 
were plowing furrows in a field. 

"I think this poem has enough rhythm and 
rhyme to be a song; see what you think," said the poet to 
the musician who stuck his head in the doorway. 
Carolyn felt warm as she watched the musician read her 
poem. Anxiously, she stared at his hands as he started to 
play the guitar, the notes capturing the sadness and the 
hope in her heart. 

The poet's instructions at the end of the ses- 
sion broke through her reverie. "Tonight bring anything 
Mexican you can find at home — blankets, sombreros — 
and we'll all perform." He suggested that her husband 
and sons might also like to attend the evening's perfor- 
mance; she doubted they would, but promised to ask. 
On the way home she began to feel uneasy. She hadn't 
performed since high school chorus — How could she get 
out of it? What would her friends think? 

"I've got to find something to wear," Carolyn 
said to herself as she headed with apprehension to her 
closet. Every item hanging there reminded her of some- 
thing unpleasant: chasing the pregnant hog, birthing a 
stillborn calf, wringing the chicken's neck. "You 
shouldn't perform unless you're thin, attractive and tal- 
ented," she muttered, shoving the metal hangers hard 
along the steel rail. Stuffed in the back of her closet was 
the oversized t-shirt with sequin flowers that the boys 
gave her last Christmas. She pulled it on over her white 
cotton slacks and went outside to call her husband and 
boys in for supper. 

She was not sure she was pleased that the boys 
and Earl agreed to go the performance so readily. Maybe 
they needed the break, or, more likely, the laugh. On the 
drive into town she wondered how she could have let 
herself get into this, and she couldn't decide if she felt ex- 
cited or sick. They took their seats on the crowded 



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bleachers in the high school gym; it was a big turnout for 
a town of 1000 people. Carolyn found Margaret and 
waved, then shook her finger at her, mouthing the 
words, "You got me into this." The poet stepped up to 
the microphone and started to speak. 

"Last night I shared some of my poems with 
you. Tonight my students, your friends and family, will 
read the poetry they've worked on in class — poetry about 
the land, about farming, about life in Centerville," he 
said. Each student shared their stories, one by one, until 
it was Carolyn's turn. "Now we have a special treat for 
everyone," the poet said softly, beckoning her to come 
down. Carolyn felt the knot in her stomach tighten; she 
grabbed Earl's rough hand and squeezed, barely noticing 
he squeezed back. The poet told the audience about the 
inspiration for her poem, her determination to keep the 
farm that had been in her family for more than a cen- 
tury. It was a story most of the audience already knew. 
Carolyn made her way down the bleachers, weaving 
among the people she grew up with, people she saw every 
day on their way to the post office, the beauty salon and 
the hardware store. They were people just like her, who 
made their living from the earth. She took a deep breath 
as she reached the floor. The poet took her hand, lead 
her to the center of the gym, and then asked her to 
read her poem. 

The quiet, in which she could hear her halt- 
ing breath as she finished the poem, erupted in applause. 
She thought she could hear Margaret shouting "Bravo!" 
from the gym balcony. Embarrassed, she looked up to 
see her friend standing and waving her hands over her 
head. Carolyn started to grin. Her eyes found her hus- 
band in the crowd, sitting straight in his seat in the 
bleachers. He was clapping hard and his face shook with 
the force of his hands slapping together. She noticed tears 
in his eyes as he pulled down the visor of his dirty green 



cap. She dropped her head, unrolled the tissue she always 
tucked in her sleeve and dabbed her eyes; the poet 
rubbed her back. 

"We collaborated with a musician today who 
put Carolyn Kressler's poem to music. We'd like you to 
help us out on the chorus." As the poet and the musician 
taught the audience the words and music, Carolyn 
walked to the bleachers where her husband sat. She 
looked at him and smiled as he threw down the Mexican 
blanket and sombrero she had borrowed from her son's 
room. He smiled, nodded and pushed back his cap. 

Workshop members of the music class and 
the writing class gathered in the center of the gym with 
their Mexican props; other musicians joined the group 
playing Tex-Mex accordion, bongos, maracas, piano and 
guitar. Carolyn stood in the center next to the poet and 
wrapped the blanket around her. All the people in the 
gym kept time to the music with their feet and swayed. 
Their voices swelled with each chorus, as if the intensity 
could stop the inevitable. It reminded Carolyn of the sto- 
ries passed on about the community barn raisings that 
had built their farm. The evening's performance seemed 
to be a kind of spiritual, community farm saving. 

She lifted her head and sang through her 
tears, her emotions changing like the seasons, bringing 
relief from the past and anticipation for the future. They 
could take the farm, but they could not take the family. 

) Touring Arts Teams 

The story of Carolyn Kressler is based on a true incident 
in a small Iowa town during a Touring Arts Team's 
(TAT) visit. It could have happened in South Dakota 
where TAT first toured the state in 1990, or in any other 
rural community with a population of less than 2500. 
Hundreds of stories, in as many variations as people, turn 
up each year as the team winds its way through the back 



roads of Iowa and South Dakota. The underlying phi- 
losophy of TAT is interaction between people and the 
arts outside the traditional settings of museums, concert 
halls and performing arts centers. This is a program for 
people who live in isolated rural communities. And while 
the number of people participating in TAT workshops 
and performances may not seem to rival the large audi- 
ences and performance halls of larger cities, the depth 
and quality of the artistic experience is intensely personal. 

"Art is a product of the human spirit; if there 
aren't that many human spirits around there just isn't go- 
ing to be as much art, but it's still there," said Mary Wipf 
Wick, a visual artist with South Dakota's TAT, who lives 
on a ranch in the Black Hills. Iowa and South Dakota 
have among the highest percentages of rural populations 
in the nation, making these states a natural place to 
search for models of rural arts delivery. To artists living 
in the cities, where taxis deliver people to Broadway, ru- 
ral life may seem isolated. But rural artists accept and 
value this isolation as part of the culture. 

"A rural setting, to me, has nothing to do 
with size or occupation but with a relationship with the 
land. People understand their place in it, understand that 
their life is somehow in a direct, vital relationship with 
the land and its demands," says Michael Carey, a poet/ 
farmer from Farragut, Iowa, who has toured with TAT 
for seven years. Carey says that the seclusion of the rural 
environment makes the collaborations that occur among 
team members one of the most beneficial aspects of 
TAT. "It helps artists cross-pollinate, especially those of 
us who aren't living near a city and don't meet other art- 
ists," he says. "People usually think of the Touring Arts 
Team as being great for the towns, but I think it's also of 
immeasurable value with regard to expanding the 
artists' work." 



Despite these rewards, artists must still con- 
front the challenges of creating workshops and perfor- 
mances for the diversity of ages and levels of expertise 
that they work with in each community. "On TAT you 
never know from class to class who is going to be there, 
what age group, if it's going to be the same people, new 
people — it's very dynamic," Carey says. These dynamics 
depend on how the team is structured, and the structure 
is determined by program needs. 

) Iowa 

In Iowa, for example, the Touring Arts Team is coordi- 
nated through the Iowa Arts Council's (LAC) Expansion 
Arts Program, which places a priority on reaching under- 
served rural audiences. "There was the underlying as- 
sumption at one time that rural areas were somewhat iso- 
lated and didn't have as much access to the arts as the 
urban areas. The Touring Arts Team was a vehicle for 
bringing arts to the people and providing them with a 
participatory experience," says Kathleen Bock Hill, direc- 
tor of the expansion arts program. "Another purpose of 
the Touring Arts Team was that once the artists were 
there, they would market some of the Iowa Arts 
Council's programs and services, encouraging communi- 
ties to apply for other programs." 

The Iowa TAT is organized into three teams 
of seven artists from different disciplines, who travel to 
five communities during the summer. The team spends 
two days in each community, conducting workshops in 
the morning and afternoon with both children and 
adults, who then perform with the artist for the commu- 
nity in the evening. In these workshops, the artist usually 
does a performance or demonstration of his or her own 
work. Then the artist uses an activity to engage the par- 
ticipants so that they can create something of their own, 
such as a poem in the case of Carolyn Kressler. Collabo- 



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rations between various disciplines are common in these 
workshops. A total of 2 1 artists and 1 5 communities par- 
ticipate in the program each year. According to Hill, this 
allows the people of a rural community to experience a 
variety of artists and disciplines with a minimum amount 
of strain on community resources. 

) South Dakota 

The South Dakota Touring Arts Team is coordinated 
through the South Dakota Arts Council's Arts Education 
Program. It is structured as a residency, making the dy- 
namics different from the Iowa program. "We felt that to 
accomplish the goals and objectives we had established 
for the program, it needed to be on-site and visible for a 
week, so that the artists could develop a program and 
have some continuity to it," said Colin D. Olsen, arts 
education coordinator. South Dakota sends four teams 
of two artists in different disciplines for five-day residen- 
cies in a single community. A total of eight artists and 
twelve communities participated in the program in 1 990. 
While artists strive to provide an excellent ar- 
tistic experience for the community, the community en- 
deavors to provide the artists with an audience and an 
environment conducive to creativity. This means provid- 
ing publicity to local media; finding a facility (usually a 
school, church, library or community building) in which 
to hold workshops and community performances; and 
providing the artists with a place to sleep (usually with 
host families), transportation to the workshop and per- 
formance site, and meals throughout the stay. Commu- 
nities also need to be prepared for the unexpected. For 
example, there was the time when 300 people from sur- 
rounding communities attended the TAT performance 
in Imogene, Iowa (population 100). It is not surprising 
the turnout was so good, since the community paraded 
the artists down Main Street, gave them shirts and hats 



and painted their names on all the buildings. Carey 
showed up to see what all the hullabaloo was about and 
decided to sign up for the Touring Arts Team. "It was 
like a liberating army had come to town," he recalls. 

) The Future 

Despite the interest of the communities involved, both 
state arts councils are still challenged by the need to con- 
vince communities to apply. In South Dakota the initial 
goal of its Touring Arts Team was to focus on those rural 
communities that had not participated in the arts council 
programs and encourage them to do so. One key ingre- 
dient to doing this was keeping the costs of a visit to a 
minimum. In 1990, South Dakota communities each 
paid $350 plus the cost of supplies. The South Dakota 
Arts Council paid about $1250 per site visit including 
travel expenses. 

Says Olsen, "We were very successful in our 
first year in getting communities to apply for the Tour- 
ing Arts Team program. The next year, 1 99 1 , no com- 
munities applied because we chose to ask only those 13 
or so communities that did not respond in 1990, and 
they probably didn't respond in 1991 because they 
couldn't afford the increased fee of $700." The South 
Dakota Arts Council has since expanded the program be- 
cause of the interest expressed by other communities not 
eligible under the original guidelines. The program is 
now available to any community with a population of 
5,000 or less (as opposed to 2500 or less), which is about 
90 percent of the state. 

In Iowa, Hill says that "it was sometimes dif- 
ficult to get communities to apply because it was hard to 
find that one person in the community who would coor- 
dinate the TAT visit." Money was also a problem for 
these small towns, so Iowa, like South Dakota, kept the 
cost of a visit to a minimum. In Iowa a Touring Arts 



Team visit costs the community $75 for the first visit 
and $100 for a return visit, an amount a town might 
raise at a bake sale. Although seemingly negligible, this 
fee helps ensure community commitment to the pro- 
gram according to Hill. Each TAT visit costs the arts 
council around $2,000 (including artist fees, supplies, 
travel and publicity materials). 

After 14 years the Iowa Arts Council is taking 
the team off the road in 1992 so that it can assess the 
changing needs of underserved audiences in both rural 
and urban areas. Although the future direction of Iowa's 
Touring Arts Team is unclear, it has left a legacy of suc- 



cess, fulfilling the aspirations of rural communities, artists 
and people like Carolyn Kressler. 

Says Hill, "I think the Touring Arts Team has 
not only achieved its goals but has surpassed them. A lot 
of the children that come to the workshops now have 
good art programs in their schools and they are taking 
dance and music lessons. Fifteen years ago there weren't 
as many rural residents who had access to quality arts." O 

Tamara Kuhn is the director of information at the Iowa Arts Council 
and has been with the arts council for the last six years. She is currently 
working on her masters degree in communication. 



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Museum Without Wall 




) Opening of the Ak-Chin Him-Dak, June, 1991. 
Photo by Krista Elrick, counesy of Phoenix Ans Commision 



by Tonda Gorton and Rudy Guglielmo 



Arizona is rich in Native American heritage 
with the history of its native peoples dating 
back thousands of years. The diversity within 
the Native American population, which is the third larg- 
est in the United States, is strikingly apparent in the 1 5 
Native American cultures represented in Arizona — 
Apache, Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Havasupai, Hopi, 
Hualapai, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Paiute, Pima, 
Quechan, Tohono O'odham, Yaqui and Zuni. 

Native Americans are the state's most rural 
population; more than a fourth of the state is devoted to 
American Indian reservations, most of which are far from 
the two major urban centers, Phoenix and Tucson. In 
addition, the tribes are geographically distant from one 
another and without a viable tribal communications net- 
work. Each Native American community has its own tra- 
ditions of language, social structure, rituals and material 
culture. Historically, these cultural traditions have been 
passed on through the clan, but social, economic and po- 
litical changes have forced these communities to search 
for new ways to maintain their culture and pass on 
their traditions. 

Recognizing the Native American peoples' 
contributions to Arizona and the nation, the Arizona 
Commission on the Arts initiated the Tribal Museum 
Program, in cooperation with ATLATL, a national Na- 
tive American arts service organization based in Phoenix, 
and the Arizona State Museum in Tucson. The Tribal 
Museum Program is designed to help tribal communities 
preserve and care for their cultural heritage and provide 
access to resources and expertise in the care of their 
collections. 

The stimulus to form the Tribal Museum 
Program came from the efforts of the Ak-Chin Tribe* in 
central Arizona, which was working with the Smith- 
sonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to develop an 



ecomuseum. The Ak-Chin is not alone in struggling to 
preserve the integrity of its identity. The tribe's experi- 
ence in developing the museum is typical of the changes 
and tensions facing Arizona's tribal communities. Many 
of the same forces are at work in other tribal communi- 
ties like the Ak-Chin. These communities feel an 
urgency to reconnect their communities, especially the 
younger generations, with their land, customs, history 
and language. 

The Ak-Chin's rich cultural heritage is slowly 
fading and the community fragmenting as the tribe's lan- 
guage is displaced by English; traditional activities, such 
as gathering basket materials, are disrupted by modern 
farm technology and land use; and the tribe's isolation, 
which has insulated its cultural identity from its larger 
neighbors, is eroded by participation in the marketplace. 

The need to find a new way to preserve its 
traditions and its past arose after the discovery on Ak- 
Chin land of more than 300 prehistoric pit houses and 
enough artifacts to fill 700 boxes. This discovery alerted 
the Ak-Chin people to a heritage they knew virtually 
nothing about. The artifacts were placed in a federal re- 
pository in Tucson until the Ak-Chin could develop a 
place of its own to house them. The Ak-Chin selected 
the ecomuseum, a nontraditional museum, as the type of 
place best suited to its needs. The underlying idea of an 
ecomuseum is that it is not a place apart from the com- 
munity; rather, it is a community cultural center. The 
community is reflected in the identity, value and spirit of 
the center. It is a museum without walls, one that reacts 



*The Ak-Chin are a tribe of about 550 people, descendants of the 
Akimel O 'odham and Tohono O 'odham Indians who settled on the 
Vekol Wash on the Santa Cruz River, 40 miles south of Phoenix. 
This seasonal floodplain has been continously inhabited for about 
15,000 years. 



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and interacts with the activities of the land and its 
peoples and encourages their participation. It is a living 
tribal vessel connecting past and present. 

To help them develop their ecomuseum, the 
Smithsonian arranged for Ak-Chin tribal members to 
visit other tribal museums. One of these visits was to an 
ecomuseum in Quebec, Canada. Subsequently, tribal 
members from Quebec were invited to visit the Ak-Chin 
community and the arts commission was asked to iden- 
tify other places the visitors should see. The visit offered 
the arts commission the opportunity to bring the 
Arizona tribes together to welcome the visitors from 
Canada and tell them about their programs and plans for 
tribal museums. 

The first meeting, initiated by ATLATL and 
the arts commission, brought together 56 participants 
from 14 Arizona tribes, who discussed their programs, 
dreams and frustrations. Of primary concern to the par- 
ticipants was the lack of access in their communities to 
information that would help their museums fulfill their 
missions. These issues and others — interest in learning 
about new trends and technologies in the museum field; 
the struggle to balance the pressures of economic 
development and tourism with the need for cultural pres- 
ervation; and professional development opportunities — 
became the focus of the Tribal Museum Program funded 
by the National Endowment for the Arts. 

To provide the assistance needed by the tribal 
communities, the Arizona State Museum, in cooperation 
with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, surveyed and 
identified the needs of both existing tribal museums and 
those tribal groups that did not have a museum but had 
specific cultural preservation needs. Based on this infor- 
mation, the Arizona State Museum developed programs 
for different levels of museum training in the Native 



American communities and determined the need for 
consultant services to tribal museums. 

To prioritize the areas where assistance was 
needed, which ranged from collections management to 
programming, the arts commission worked with cultural 
committees and existing tribal museums. The cultural 
committees were from communities that demonstrated 
support for developing a museum. The decision on the 
type of consultation and consultant was made by the 
museum or cultural committee, and when possible con- 
sultants were selected from the Native American com- 
munity. Awards for consultants went directly to the 
tribal museums and it was the museum's responsibility to 
arrange for the consultation. Some museums like the 
Hoo-hoogam Ki Museum on the Salt River Pima Reser- 
vation used a consultant to help develop a volunteer aux- 
iliary and a board for the museum. 

Still others, like the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, 
asked the arts commission to help them with the design 
component in building their new Yavapai Indian Heri- 
tage Center. The staff from the Heritage Center met 
with an architectural consultant who helped them create 
a five-year building plan. Since the consultation, the 
Yavapai-Prescott Tribe has received an arts commission 
design grant to implement the plan. This master plan 
will allow for realistic development of a center that will 
perpetuate the cultural heritage of the tribe and encour- 
age economic development of the tribal community. 

A long-term goal of the arts commission is in- 
tegrating the professional development of the tribal mu- 
seums into other agency programs, as in the case of the 
design grant awarded to the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe or 
the arts-in-education grant awarded to the Ak-Chin. In 
particular, the arts commission hopes that as the tribal 
museums develop they will become involved in the 
agency's multiyear Organization Development Program, 



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Artist working on baskets at the Hoo-hoogam Ki Museum in the Salt River Pima 
Reservation near Scottsdale, Arizona. Through the Tribal Museum Program, the Hoo- 
hoogam Ki was able to hire a consultant to assist it in developing a volunteer auxiliary 
and a board for the museum. 
Photo by Freddie Honhongua 



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which is designed to assist organizations with administra- 
tive and organizational skills. Thus far, the Hopi Cul- 
tural Center Museum at Second Mesa on the Hopi 
Reservation and the Fort Yuma Quechan Museum in 
Yuma have been selected to participate in the program. 

The Tribal Museum Program continues to 
offer a forum for tribal representatives to discuss com- 
mon issues. These meetings are held two to four times a 
year at different locations and each meeting showcases a 
different museum or tribal cultural center. The success of 
the meetings can be attributed to the role tribal museums 
play as presenters in the planning and running of the 
meetings. The topical breadth of the meetings is evident 
by the diversity of the Native American presenters: 
Bonita Stevens, curator registrar at Colorado River In- 
dian Tribes Museum; Margaret Archuleta, fine arts cura- 
tor for the Heard Museum; Emory Sekaquapetwa, 
research anthropologist on the Hopi Dictionary Project, 
University of Arizona; contemporary Native American 
artist James Luna; Dr. Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara 
Pueblo Historic Preservation Project; Dr. Fernando 
Escalante, Yaqui Family Literacy Program; videographer 
John Crouch, University of Arizona; Hopi videographer 
Victor Masayesva; and Susan Guyette, planning director 
for Santa Fe Community Development. 

In addition to these presentations, the 25 to 
70 participants at each meeting discussed a range of is- 
sues from the basics of museum management to the re- 
patriation of cultural mores to museum governance with 
tribal council support. Weldon Johnson of the Colorado 
River Indian Tribes Museum states this last issue suc- 
cinctly: "A challenge for the museum is trying to struc- 
ture ways to insure preservation [of tribal artifacts] 
through the tribal government. For example, developing 
a tribal ordinance that includes policies and procedures 
to protect sites on the reservation." 



The meetings fostered a sense of community 
and empowerment that contributed to a development of 
trust. Informal networks of support evolved, resulting in 
resource exchanges among the participants. The arts 
commission encouraged tribal museum staff, through 
professional development grants, to attend out-of-state 
conferences. The information gathered and contacts 
made at these conferences were then shared with the 
other tribal museums. 

In 1990, as a direct outgrowth of the success 
of the tribal museum meetings, Arizona hosted the West- 
ern Museums Association Conference. At the confer- 
ence, the Ak-Chin tribe, the Smithsonian Institution 
and the arts commission presented a workshop on the 
development of the ecomuseum and the collaboration 
between the tribal communities and ATLATL, the Ari- 
zona State Museum and the arts commission to support 
the development of tribal museums. 

Emblematic of the efforts of Arizona's tribal 
communities to ensure the continuity of their culture is 
the Ak-Chin Him-Dak, which opened in June 1 99 1 . As 
the first nationally recognized ecomuseum in the United 
States, the Ak-Chin Him-Dak is a tribute to the culture 
of the tribe. Him-Dak means "the way of life." Teresa 
Valisto, museum technician, further explains its mean- 
ing: "The Him-Dak is here for the elders of our com- 
munity to bring what they know to the young people; 
then the young people will know how to carry on the 
O'odham way of life." Members of the tribe also are en- 
rolled in college degree programs so that they will be able 
to staff and manage their ecomuseum. The museum and 
its future curators will be a vital link in handing down 
Ak-Chin traditions to the next generation. 

The Tribal Museum Program is launched; its 
emphasis on self-determination and cooperation stimu- 
lated trust and sharing, which spawned a strong network 



among the tribal museums across the state. The Tribal 
Museum Program will continue to assist the museums in 
their endeavors to preserve the cultural heritage of the 
native peoples in Arizona. O 



Tonda Gorton is the public information/literature director of the Ari- 
zona Commission on the Arts and has been with the arts council for 17 
years. 

Rudy Gugliemo is the expansion arts director of the Arizona Commis- 
sion on the Arts. He is the former executive director ofMovimiento 
Artistico del Rio Salado, and is currently a board member of the Na- 
tional Association of Artists' Organizations. 



© 




) The ramadas seen above are traditional work spaces for Native American artisans and 
are part of the Gila River Arts and Crafts Center in Gila River, Arizona 
Photo by Freddie Honhongua 



6 J Creating a Home for the Arts 




) Young violinist Emilie Gordon demonstrates the Suzuki Method at the annual meeting of the 
Thomaston-Upson Arts Council. 
Photo courtesy of Thomaston-Upson Arts Council 



by Henry Willett 



William Faulkner, reflecting on the unique re- 
sourcefulness of Southerners, is said to have 
marveled at how the Southern farmer could 
take a worthless acre of feed corn and transform it into a 
wonderfully potent and intoxicating bottle of corn whis- 
key. Southerners pride themselves on such inventiveness, 
and it is this quality that enabled a small Georgia town to 
create a dynamic local arts agency. 

Just over five years ago the Thomaston- 
Upson Arts Council began as a simple, shared vision of a 
handful of individuals; now it is a bustling enterprise of 
local cultural programming. In this time, the arts council 
has scheduled chorale programs, theater productions and 
artists-in-residence programs with the local schools. It 
made possible a visit by the Consul General of Japan, 
who attended a benefit performance for the arts council, 
honoring its receipt of a grand piano from the local 
Yamaha factory. It is remarkable that any of this could 
happen in a rural community of 9,000 people (within a 
county of barely 26,000 people), with a per capita in- 
come 25 percent below the state average and 30 percent 
below the national average. Despite poverty, sparse 
population, inadequate transportation and the lack of 
cultural institutions and facilities, the local community 
brought into being the Thomaston-Upson Arts Council. 

Sixty-eight miles south of Atlanta in the Ap- 
palachian foothills of rural west-central Georgia, 
Thomaston is typical of many rural communities in the 
Deep South whose histories are rooted in cotton. For 
much of the 19th and 20th centuries, cotton and its 
products were the cornerstone of Thomaston's and 
Upson County's livelihood. Even to this day, despite a 
number of other industries, most notably Yamaha Music 
Manufacturing, Thomaston remains essentially a textile- 
mill town. In Upson County, agriculture, too, has diver- 
sified in recent years, but the county is still dominated by 



small farms whose size and number have not changed 
dramatically. 

In the mid-1980s the community entered a 
period of renewed self-discovery and pride. Thomaston 
had been named an All-Georgia Community by the De- 
partment of Industry and Trade, and a local Main Street 
Program had been established through the historic pres- 
ervation section of the Department of Natural Resources. 
According to one arts council founder and former coun- 
cil president, this period saw a profound "interest in 
studied and careful growth, along with maintaining the 
community's individuality." 

Cultural activities, which were not new to 
Thomaston, were an important part of this individuality. 
There were the local historical society, the Art League, 
church music programs and a smattering of local visual 
artists and musicians. But there was never an organiza- 
tion to bring all of them together under one umbrella of 
promotion and support. As so often happens with new 
enterprises, the arts council began as a conversation be- 
tween two people. One of them was a state arts council 
member and the other a teacher. Out of their conversa- 
tion came a guiding principle in the arts council's devel- 
opment: "the need to educate by doing." They realized 
from the beginning that they needed to involve not only 
the community's "movers and shakers," but as many 
people as possible in the arts council's development. 
Hence the local judge became the registered agent of in- 
corporation, an accountant in town was enlisted to 
handle the books and the whole town was involved in a 
contest to name the council. 

The naming contest was the first of a series of 
constituency-building activities that the new arts council 
initiated. The council sent a letter to every civic organiza- 
tion in town asking them to appoint a delegate or judge 
to help select the name of the council. Then, council 







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members placed boxes with pads around town for 
people's suggestions. After two weeks and some 50 sug- 
gestions, the arts council was christened the Thomaston- 
Upson Arts Council (TUAC). The contest winners 
(there was a tie for first place) had their pictures featured 
on the front page of the local newspaper and each re- 
ceived free tickets to the first performing arts series, 
which had yet to be planned. 

A few months later TUAC expanded this ef- 
fort with a community-wide membership drive. Here 
volunteers compiled mailing lists of prospective members 
from the local phone book, city directory and names sug- 
gested by current members. They sent each household in 
the area a hand-lettered invitation stamped with the at- 
tention-getting call, "Mayday! Mayday!" The invitation 
asked them to attend an arts council reception that was 
followed by an evening of entertainment featuring local 
performers. At this event participants were asked to vol- 
unteer for a host of arts council activities such as selling 
tickets, doing publicity, compiling the arts calendar and 
serving as ushers. The end result of this membership 
event was to enlist several hundred charter members, es- 
sentially shareholders in the arts council and its activities. 

The democratic nature of these activities and 
the support it generated convinced local government of- 
ficials that the Thomaston-Upson Arts Council was an 
essential partner in the community's future, and they re- 
sponded with an appropriation of $1,000. Another key 
to TUAC's early success was its relationship with the 
Georgia Council on the Arts (GCA). From the very in- 
ception of TUAC, the state arts agency provided advice 
and technical assistance on a continual basis. Another 
important aspect of this relationship was the young arts 
council's participation in the GCA's Arts Council/ 
Agency Development Program. This program provided 
TUAC and others like it with multiyear funding for sala- 



ries, training and other administrative costs. This combi- 
nation of technical and financial assistance, in addition to 
the GCA's support for TUAC's artists-in-schools activi- 
ties, was one of the key ingredients in the arts council's 
ability to build a diversified base of financial support. At 
the same time, the GCA support supplied the kind of 
recognition that encouraged local involvement 
and support. 

State arts agency staff also led the new arts 
agency to productive liaisons with other local arts agen- 
cies, the Georgia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, the 
Georgia Association of Community Arts Agencies and 
the Southern Arts Federation. Representatives from the 
Georgia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts walked TUAC 
through the application process for nonprofit status and 
such administrative details as bookkeeping, taxes and 
bylaws. Meetings with the Southern Arts Federation pro- 
vided the council with programing information, and dis- 
cussions with the GCA and local arts councils helped the 
young arts council shape its role in the community. 

This role, summarized in its mission state- 
ment, is "to make the arts available to every citizen in this 
area of Georgia; to encourage local talent; to inspire and 
educate our children in all the art forms; and to present 
visual and performing artists who will stimulate and en- 
tertain." Their mission is like those of hundreds of other 
local arts agencies, but unlike many local arts councils, 
TUAC's leadership saw this statement as dictating a pro- 
grammatic focus rather than a service focus. This is 
largely due to the fact that, with the exception of a volun- 
teer visual arts league, there were no local arts organiza- 
tions to service. They also saw their mission not just in 
terms of importing art but in emphasizing local arts re- 
sources as well. 

During the course of the first year, the arts 
council produced a number of events showcasing local 



artists and performers, ranging from a performance by an 
opera singer to an Indian artifacts exhibit to a summer 
picnic with an amateur barbershop quartet. These local 
events were integrated with a performing arts series fea- 
turing a professional ballet company, a north-Georgia 
bluegrass band and a college choir from Atlanta. Before 
this professional performing arts series could take place, 
TUAC needed to professionally evaluate the local per- 
forming arts spaces in order to meet the technical needs 
of the groups they had invited. The GCA was instru- 
mental in helping the young agency surmount this first 
critical step by paying part of the consultant fee through 
a technical assistance grant. 

The success of the council in producing these 
major events demanded that the effort belong to the en- 
tire community, not just the arts community. During 
the production of the Nutcracker, the second event in the 
performing arts series, the arts council continued to find 
innovative ways to involve the whole community. An 
arts council volunteer, for instance, created and ran a de- 
sign contest in the local schools to produce the program 
for the ballet. Other TUAC volunteers made refresh- 
ments to sell at intermission, and local dancers were re- 
cruited to sell tickets to the performance. 

The Thomaston-Upson Arts Council was 
also effective at nurturing ties with other local institu- 
tions — with the public schools for both performance 
space and the artists-in-schools program; with the library 
for the visual arts exhibition series; and with the chamber 
of commerce, the local college and numerous civic orga- 
nizations for volunteer pools and other services. These 
links to other institutions broadened the arts council's 
base of support, increased its political leverage and helped 
to "democratize" the agency, making it less of a club and 
more of a public institution. 



The local schools were crucial to the develop- 
ment of the fledgling arts council as a community insti- 
tution. Knowing this from the outset, the arts council 
created a volunteer committee within a few months of its 
founding to meet with local school superintendents and 
discuss arts events for the schools. These conversations 
led to an artists-in-schools program that began during 
the second year with a grant from the state arts council. 

The new arts council's use of its membership 
to recruit local business leaders as members was another 
effective move in binding itself to the community. A 
highlight of this recruitment drive was Yamaha Music 
Manufacturing's donation of a grand piano to the com- 
munity through the arts council. The official presenta- 
tion was a gala event featuring a piano concert, a procla- 
mation from the Governor of Georgia and an appearance 
by the Consul General of Japan. 

Alliances with local businesses and institutions 
were important for sustaining the arts council's early de- 
velopment and assuring its long-term success. Just as im- 
portant was TUAC's early focus on local arts activities, 
on which TUAC began to expand after it received an 
agency development grant shortly after its first anniver- 
sary. This grant allowed the arts council to rent office 
space and hire an executive director, which in turn made 
it possible for the arts council to focus more attention on 
programming. The young arts council broadened its of- 
ferings with a performing arts and visual arts series, an 
annual local Talent Night, a "Music In the Morning" 
performance series, a summer arts instruction program 
for children and a greatly expanded artists-in-schools 
program. The local Talent Night gave birth to a commu- 
nity theater, which now operates under the wing of the 
arts council. And, a writer residency in the artists-in- 
schools program stimulated the creation of a local 
writers' organization. 



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In a place with more obstacles than resources, 
the blossoming of so much cultural activity in just over 
five years is a testament to local support and involve- 
ment. Such a large investment of time and a relatively 
small investment of money have allowed the arts council 
to overcome a host of obstacles that plague many towns 
of the Deep South, which suffer from the same difficult 
history, cultural collisions, isolation and poverty. The lo- 
cal newspaper editor has called the arts council "a great 
tool for the improvement of the quality of life." 

With many local arts agencies moving away 
from programming and toward service, the Thomaston- 
Upson Arts Council has shown that programming is 
both essential and appropriate in its efforts "to make the 
arts available to everyone" in this small Georgia town. 
Around a diverse showcase of visiting performing artists 
(featuring the Atlanta Boys Choir, the North Carolina 
Dance Theatre, The Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet, 
the Georgia Sea Island Singers, the Savannah Symphony 
Orchestra, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the 
Morehouse College Glee Club), the Thomaston-Upson 
Arts Council has built an array of programs designed to 
bolster local arts endeavors. Along the way it has created 
arts education programs, a visual arts exhibition series, a 
community theater and a local writers' organization. 

These programs have come about because of 
the local commitment to the arts council's objectives. 
The arts council is now prominendy featured in chamber 
of commerce and business-recruitment literature. The 
business community perceives the arts council to be an 



essential partner in the community's economic future. 
Local governments, both city and county, recognize the 
arts council's important role in the lives of local citizens, 
and have backed up that recognition with ongoing finan- 
cial support, which has increased 800 percent since the 
council's inception. Local school superintendents have 
learned that the arts are basic to providing a sound and 
comprehensive educational experience, and are solidly 
committed to ongoing support of the arts council's art- 
ists-in-schools program. 

There is a certain clarity of vision that has 
characterized the evolution of the Thomaston-Upson 
Arts Council — the viewing of artistic expression from 
outside the area with a sense of discovery and acceptance, 
while at the same time nurturing that uniquely local ar- 
tistic legacy with a sense of local pride and confidence. 
The development of these resources, in addition to pro- 
viding forums for profound aesthetic expression, also 
provides a sense of local pride and a reference point for 
other aesthetic experiences. Thoughtful planning and 
hard work can be credited for this success story. Behind 
it all is the passion and determination of a group of local 
community leaders — passion in their convictions and in 
their fierce and dedicated loyalty to and support for their 
local community. O 

Henry Willett is the director of the Alabama Center for Traditional 
Culture in Montgomery, Alabama. He is the former regional representa- 
tive in the South for the National Endowment for the Arts.