From books and butterflies to immigration:
An Ohio community embraces diversity with the NEA Big Read
Emma Bohmann | Development Manager
Massillon Museum knew Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies would speak to their diverse Ohio community when staff selected the book for the 2016 NEA Big Read—but they didn’t realize just how powerful this impact would be.
The book, with its themes of freedom and political safety, resonated in Massillon, a city in northeastern Ohio that has seen an influx of immigrants and refugees from Central America. “Julia’s book, the story of the Mirabal sisters, really served as a catalyst to connect our community with those who are escaping violence in their home country and settling in Ohio,” said April Olsen, the museum’s education and outreach coordinator.
Using the Big Read as a starting point, the museum conducted programming that sparked dialogue around the city’s diversity. “We had panel discussions on experiences that refugees have [had] fleeing from their home country,” said Olsen. “This really served to bring awareness to the hundreds of immigrants and refugees [in Massillon] and connect our community with a newer community that people might not necessarily be aware of.”
Through a partnership with local social services agency Immigrant Worker Project–Centro San Jose (IWP), the museum and the community celebrated the city’s growing diversity. “[IWP] created a Guatemalan carpet artwork called an alfombra,” Olsen said. “It’s designed out of dyed sawdust. They worked with 23 unaccompanied minors who had come [to Massillon] from Central America to design the carpet.”
These dedicated artists installed the carpet in the museum to welcome Alvarez when she came for an author visit and keynote address. In return, Alvarez and her husband spoke with some of the immigrants and refugees who have settled in Massillon in recent years. The result was a sharing of stories that brought the community closer.
Massillon Museum partnered with 30 organizations to offer a total of 50 events, 40 of which were free and open to the public. Other highlights included:
- Distribution of 1,735 copies of the book
- “Empower Hour” at a domestic violence shelter, where residents and their children created butterfly art
- A book discussion with food called “Delectable Discussion and Dominican Delight,” featuring Julia Alvarez’s family recipes for flan and puda de pan
- An all-day field trip to the museum for high school students that explored exhibits related to the book
- One-act plays based on the book’s themes, directed and performed by high school students
- Butterflies, raised and released by the museum
This was Massillon Museum’s ninth consecutive year hosting the NEA Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, managed by Arts Midwest. The museum was also one of 77 organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Big Read grant for continued programming in 2016–2017.
Navigating arts and nature in the St. Croix Valley
Emma Bohmann | Development Manager
The St. Croix Valley has served as a gathering place for people since they arrived in the valley nearly 10,000 years ago. Today, the region’s distinctive landscape—glacier-carved valleys surrounded by sandstone bluffs and basalt cliffs—draws artists and environmentalists alike to the shores of the river.
Recognizing the power of that confluence, Arts Midwest launched Navigate, a new ArtsLab program with Stillwater-based ArtReach St. Croix that convened leaders from the arts and the environment for retreats and conversations about how we can work together to advance our shared goals around strengthening and sustaining the region. We recently chatted with ArtReach St. Croix’s executive director, Heather Rutledge, about the program.
Arts Midwest: What first sparked your interest in bringing together leaders from both the arts and environmental sectors?
Heather Rutledge: ArtReach St. Croix was part of the ArtsLab [leadership development] cohort in 2012–2014, where we started to be better about recognizing and honoring and speaking to the connection of arts and nature as a core part of our organization. The arts in this area are really unique because of the landscape. This landscape and this special river definitely inspire people, definitely impact their creative process, and then, through that, their creative output.
AM: What were your original goals when you entered Navigate, both for the program and for yourself?
HR: Conversations about working at the intersection of arts and nature have been happening in the St. Croix Valley for a while. A really important goal for ArtReach was to figure out how we could help move the conversation forward in a way that would have a big impact. The other main goal is that we wanted to be able to work across sectors, so we wanted to bring in people from environmental groups, environmentalists, and also scientists, and do that in a way that would move our organizational goals forward and raise the visibility of the arts in the valley.
AM: Navigate’s last retreat was May 19th. How are you seeing its impact around the region?
HR: There are [eight] projects that were funded through Navigate’s mini grants. They’re catalyst projects that hopefully will be sparked this summer and fall and then maybe will have a life of their own in subsequent years.
AM: Do you feel that you achieved your goals with Navigate?
HR: I do. I feel really proud of the work that we did and so grateful to the Navigate planning team, facilitators, participants, and funders. I feel like it’s my challenge, and the challenge of the participants to take advantage of the strength and the power in this network of people who work in the natural world and people who work in the artistic world.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Strengthening the creative sector at the Arts Midwest Conference
Brian Halaas | Conference Program Manager
The Arts Midwest Conference is approaching quickly, and the Conference team is deep into planning mode. As part of this process, we traveled to Milwaukee, this year’s host city, where we met with local performing arts professionals to discuss current trends and challenges facing the city’s creative sector. Yet as the dialogue continued, we realized that the issues discussed were those facing the creative sector as a whole. These conversations with Milwaukee’s arts organizations laid the groundwork for this year’s Professional Development offerings at the Conference.
Conversations covered a wide range of topics and informed all the workshops, panels, and roundtable discussions that will be offered at this year’s Conference. But three issues kept coming up: equity and access; technology; and venue safety. The prevalence of these concerns helped us craft this year’s In-Depth Seminars, detailed at right, which will be offered on the first day of the Conference.
Our hope is that attendees will share the lessons from these two- and four-hour seminars with others. By coming together as artists, as agents, and as administrators, we can learn from one another’s experiences and emerge a stronger, more resilient sector.
Featured resource: What’s in your toolbox?
Finding messages that matter
Attracting new audiences and staying connected to your communities can be difficult.
That’s why Arts Midwest has been exploring new ways to support you, our fellow arts leaders, as you create messages and programs that resonate with your current community while bringing new faces in the door.
Learn more about the national movement, Creating Connection, and discover new (free!) tools and resources such as:
- Message Guide: A resource to support how you craft messages for new or existing audiences.
- Establishing Experiences: Questions to help you think about, design, and update programs to create connection.
- Engagement Guide: A framework to help you identify and engage your stakeholders.