Ondekoza workshop at Sunnyside Elementary School in Red Wing, MN. Photo by Luke Rivard.
The positive power of taiko
Reflections on an Arts Midwest World Fest residency
Luke Rivard | Program Associate
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Red Wing, Minnesota in early February to witness my first in-person Arts Midwest World Fest residency.
As a percussionist and teaching artist myself, I know what it’s like to work with students of all ages in school assembly formats, introducing kids to a variety of drumming techniques from around the world. However, this program is different than any other cultural access or community engagement program I’ve come across before.
After many months of preparation and anticipation as a new employee at Arts Midwest, I was about to experience Arts Midwest World Fest in action with one of the most reputable Japanese Taiko drumming ensembles in the world, Ondekoza, teaching and performing in the small and vibrant community of Red Wing, Minnesota.
The day began at Twin Bluff Middle School, just south of downtown Red Wing. The ensemble arrived early and unloaded their gear, setting up their drums and PA system in less than a half an hour.
I couldn’t help but notice the nicely-folded jackets, scarves, and personal bags lined up against the back wall of the school stage. The Taiko way of life, emphasizing efficiency and mind-body awareness, not only manifested itself in Ondekoza’s performance, but also in the small, everyday details.
A strong performance
When the performance began, the power of the Taiko almost knocked me off my feet. The students in the small school theater lit up with excitement. They could not help but pat their laps and drum in the air, embodying the visceral rhythms that were happening in rapid succession before their eyes.
Ondekoza effectively engaged the students through their athletic performance, and afterward the students of Twin Bluff Middle School further connected to Ondekoza by asking questions and having the opportunity to play their drums.
Connecting two villages
These connections made through music lifted all participants, both students and performers, to a higher place of joy and understanding. Positive connections and impressions between two international “villages” are necessary because they supersede any sort of negative stereotypes or prejudices.
From an administrative perspective, it was a special moment for me to witness the mission of Arts Midwest being demonstrated so clearly and effectively.
I returned to the Arts Midwest headquarters in Minneapolis the next day with renewed energy. Being in Red Wing to observe the positive exchange between cultures through music gave me a fresh perspective on my role in the organization and strengthened my appreciation for the work we do.
NEA Big Read strengthens community connections in Waukesha, Wisconsin
Julie Zhou | NEA Big Read Program Assistant
The town of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is no stranger to the NEA Big Read. Over the years, the Waukesha Public Library has engaged thousands of community members and over 50 local partners in their “Waukesha Reads” programming—a month-long series of community book discussions, public talks, and artistic events centered around a single book. For their 2017 NEA Big Read in November, the Waukesha Public Library selected Charles Portis’s True Grit. It was welcomed by their community with unparalleled success.
“Throughout the course of our NEA Big Read, one older reader became friendly with our library staff,” recalled Kori Hall, the Head of Program Development and Community Engagement at the Waukesha Public Library. “[She] revealed to us that her free copy of True Grit was the first book that she had ever finished.”
Book giveaways inspired community members to read and connect in themed events all over town. Photos courtesy of Waukesha Public Library.
A community inspired
Hall has led all nine of Waukesha’s NEA Big Read programs since their first application in 2007 and has witnessed firsthand the program’s effect on the community. She attributes a part of this reader’s success to the Waukesha Public Library’s choice to program True Grit. “Our community engaged with this book in ways we haven’t seen before,” said Hall.
The “Waukesha Reads” kickoff saw people enjoying country music and posing with life-sized cutouts of characters from the book, but also engaging in discussions about deeper issues: from state incarceration rates to historical treatment of Native American communities, gender representation in the Western genre to Wisconsin land and water preservation.
Partnering for success
In exploring these topics throughout their programming, the Waukesha Public Library found that their partnerships with local businesses and organizations allowed them to reach audiences beyond their library community—helping them engage new readers like the woman who was so taken with True Grit.
It is our hope that the long-term impact of this program will be lasting relationships that continue to help our community come together throughout the year, and not just during the NEA Big Read.
–Kori Hall, Waukesha Public Library
“Our Waukesha Reads programs would not be successful without the participation and enthusiasm of our community partners,” Hall acknowledged. “Not only does partnering expand the audience of our reading program, but those organizations know their individual communities and create programs that we never would have thought of on our own.”
After finishing True Grit, the reader that Hall mentioned was so inspired by her success that she decided to participate in all of the NEA Big Read events. Relying on the bus to travel around town, she found that the program took her to places in Waukesha that she never would have explored on her own.
From Judge Derek Mosley’s speech on the Wisconsin criminal justice system to the Waukesha County Museum’s program on feminism in Waukesha during the time of True Grit, the Waukesha Public Library’s programming connected this reader—and many others like her—to new places and experiences in her community.
Themed materials from Waukesha’s NEA Big Read. Photo courtesy of Waukesha Public Library.
The heart of the matter
“She also cultivated new friendships with other Big Read devotees, and we now see them attending other Library and community programs together,” Hall said. “Not only did she finish her very first book, but she experienced new places in her community and made personal connections with others.”
That last sentence lies at the heart of the Waukesha Public Library’s NEA Big Read. Beyond their mission to build a community of life-long readers, the Waukesha Public Library used their programming to establish lasting relationships in and across the city: relationships of celebration, gratitude, and strength in community.
It is stories like these that speak to the program’s ability to build and grow networks of support. NEA Big Read not only empowers organizations, but also strengthens communities through the transformative power of collaboration and partnership.
On the horizon
Kardemimmit. Photo by Jimmy Träskelin.
Arts Midwest Touring Fund
April 25: 2018–2019 applications due
May 12: 2017–2018 performances end
Arts Midwest Conference
May 1: Conference registration opens
September 5–8: Arts Midwest Conference in Indianapolis, IN
Shakespeare in American Communities
May: 2018–2019 grant notifications
NEA Big Read
April: 2018–2019 grant notifications
Arts Midwest World Fest
April 8–May 5: Unni Boksasp Ensemble on tour
Arts Midwest Folkefest
April 14: Kardemimmit wraps up their tour in Devils Lake, ND
September 23–October 13: Emilia Amper Band on tour
Board of Directors
June 15: Arts Midwest Summer Board Meeting