In this newsletter: Creative peace-making in Fergus Falls; Israeli-folk group starts a cultural awakening in Iowa; new board members join the Arts Midwest team; plus upcoming tours and events.
Land of the free, home to the brave:
How a small town in Minnesota came to embrace new voices
Adam Perry | Senior Program Director, Caravanserai
There was palpable tension when the town of Fergus Falls, located 175 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota, learned that the local arts venue, A Center for the Arts, would be presenting Muslim artists to the community as part of Arts Midwest’s Caravanserai: A place where cultures meet program.
A phone campaign from parents demanding that Muslim artists be barred from performing in the public schools and pressure from the School Board sparked concern at the Center that following through with the performances could be detrimental to their reputation.
But the Center’s Executive Director, Michael Burgraff, knew the community could be a safe space for a creative dialogue—one that could navigate a post-9/11, post-Charlie Hebdo, post-San Bernardino world, where ISIS and the global refugee crisis weigh on our collective consciousness.
And he knew that Caravanserai, a program created to immerse communities in exploring contemporary Muslim expressions, discovering new voices, and strengthening cultural understanding, would support him. So he challenged the School Board, and his passionate advocacy paved the way for the artists to travel to this city of 13,000, connect with students, and provide a platform to experience new voices.
Building bridges, sharing “brown-skin soul”
In late January, Palestinian-American Sufi rocker Ronnie Malley and Indian-American “brown-skin soul” singer Zeshan Bagewadi arrived in Fergus Falls.
And Burgraff was right; Fergus Falls was an ideal setting for a week of performances, workshops, and building bridges. Ronnie and Zeshan packed a downtown venue for a late night jam session with local musicians. They got haircuts from the town barber, frequented downtown restaurants, and played pool with the locals.
And when Zeshan’s classically-trained operatic voice soared during a stirring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Kiwanis luncheon, smiles shone through faces speckled with patriotic tears.
Ronnie and Zeshan’s public concert became a communal convergence on a snowy Saturday night. The audience gave them a prolonged standing ovation and greeted them warmly in the lobby after the show. And for the first time, a Muslim family that moved to Fergus Falls just last year—the first to reside in the city limits—felt welcomed by their new community.
The creative peace-making in Fergus Falls is just the beginning of the adventure for this community. In April, Muslim-American hip-hop artists will spread their soulful sounds across town as part of a larger tour to other communities across the Midwest.
Indeed, these caravan travelers dotting the prairie horizon are part of a modern Silk Road sharing their voices along the country roads of America. With new faces, songs in unfamiliar languages, and instruments from far-away lands, they’re paving new routes as ambassadors of peace.
Muslim voices on America’s main streets
Caravanserai has been bringing Muslim voices to America’s main streets since 2010. We’ve reached every region of the United States—with communities like Grand Rapids, Minnesota; Jamestown, North Dakota; and Crockett, Texas hosting Pakistani qawwali singers, Moroccan gnawa bands, and Malaysian shadow puppet troupes. And in that time, we’ve begun the important journey of creating positive social change through sharing creative expression and deepening community connections.
Composing “Iowa” on the Winnebago
Emma Bohmann | Development Manager
Cultural ties formed easily between Israeli-Mediterranean folk ensemble Baladino and local residents in Forest City, Iowa, as the community kicked off their participation in Arts Midwest World Fest, a two-year tour featuring global artists.
Thanks to local partners Forest City Community Schools, Waldorf University, Grow Forest City, and community host Audrey Olmstead, the fresh, young Israeli group conducted some impressive outreach:
- Eight venues
- More than 2,500 audiences members who ranged in age from six to 96 years
- 14 performances, workshops, and master classes
But most importantly, Baladino infused Forest City with energy and enthusiasm for its music and culture.
High school students gave their first-ever standing ovation after the ensemble’s performance; Waldorf University students participated in a hands-on master class on rhythm and melody; and seniors conducted workout sessions to Baladino’s CD. The week culminated in a sold-out public concert on Thursday evening, heavily attended by the children who were captivated by Baladino’s charm during the school workshops earlier that week.
“The buzz generated by the group’s presence in Forest City was palpable,” said Matt Harris, Iowa Art Council Administrator and Arts Midwest Board Member. “It was a proud Arts Midwest moment.”
Finding inspiration in unexpected places
Baladino stayed at Oak Knoll, a house with sweeping views of the nearby Winnebago River and a setting that proved inspirational. “We did a lot of rehearsals [there],” recalled Yonnie Dror, one of the ensemble members. “We even came up with a new tune that we named ‘Iowa.’”
In Arabic, Dror explained, aywa—pronounced like “Iowa”—means “yes.” The word is also slang in Hebrew for “really good.”
“We’ve had so many performances since then,” Dror said. “Every show . . . in the U.S. or Israel, we say, we were in a place called Iowa, and that is where we composed this new tune.”
The start of a cultural awakening
Months later, the ensemble’s effect still lingers. Norma Hertzer of Grow Forest City describes the feeling in the community:
It’s hard to describe the deep emotional impact that the Baladino residency had on our small community. We describe it as an experience that resulted in a cultural awakening.
Forest City is preparing now to host its second Arts Midwest World Fest ensemble April 24–30, 2016. This tour will feature Le Vent du Nord from Québec, Canada, and once again promises to bring inspiration, excitement, and new experiences to this community through world music.
Arts Midwest taps financial, education, and philanthropic sectors for leaders
Brian Tiemann | Chair, Nominating Committee
As chair of the nominating committee for Arts Midwest, I am thrilled to announce the five new members who joined our organization at our winter board meeting.
We are honored these influential individuals are willing to volunteer their time in support of Arts Midwest’s mission of promoting creativity and bringing high-quality arts experiences to communities across our region. Each member brings incredible insight into the arts, finance, education, and philanthropy, and I know their contributions to Arts Midwest and the region will be significant.
On that note, we would like to introduce: Flávia Bastos, Mary Pickard, Jane Rasmussen, Omari Rush, and Greg Volan. Please join me in welcoming them to our team.
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On the horizon
Arts Midwest programming is abuzz with activity and planning as spring arrives. Mark your calendars for these upcoming events.
2016 Arts Midwest Conference
Registration opens May 3 for the Arts Midwest Conference, which will convene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from September 13–16. Learn more…
Arts Midwest World Fest
Baladino returns to the Midwest for their final Arts Midwest World Fest tour this season, and Le Vent du Nord continues their spring tour through the end of April. Find concert dates and locations…
Caravanserai: American Voices
The Reminders, MaMa2, and DJ Man-O-Wax will tour to Grand Forks, North Dakota; Fergus Falls, Minnesota; and Traverse City, Michigan for the Caravanserai season.
Arts Midwest Touring Fund
Arts Midwest supports performing arts organizations across our region as they present a variety of music, dance, theater, and more. Find performing arts experiences in your area on our events calendar