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Quarterly Newsletter - Fall 2016

Conference speakers empower us to unite communities through creativity

Emma Bohmann | Development Manager

Arts Midwest has long been dedicated to creating opportunities for people to come together, share ideas, and effect lasting change through creative expression. As we are surrounded by political messages that divide us, we view the role of arts and culture in drawing connections between people become more crucial. At the Arts Midwest Conference in September, the importance of this commitment was emphasized by our featured speakers, Oskar Eustis and Dasha Kelly.

Keynote speaker Oskar Eustis captivated a full audience at the 2016 Conference Keynote. Photos by Joshua Feist.

Oskar Eustis, artistic director at The Public Theater in New York, spoke of theater’s role in bringing people together. “We are more alike as humans than we are separate as artists,” he said in his address. Such issues are at the forefront at The Public Theater as they manage the incredible success of Hamilton, the hit Broadway musical that had its start on The Public’s stage.

Dasha Kelly echoed these sentiments. “We broker imagination,” she said. Kelly is the founder of Still Waters Collective, an arts education and community building initiative in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As artists and presenters, she told Conference attendees, “you give people—from children to seniors and every place in the middle—a chance to see themselves in a different light. You give them a chance to interact in ways that are disarming because it’s in this creative space.”

Sharing space, engaging audiences

Both Eustis and Kelly, in their own way, emphasized the importance of providing these creative spaces in such a manner that people of all backgrounds feel welcome in them.

“What you put on stage has to look like the audience you have,” Eustis said. “It has to look like the city you live in.” The Public Theater reaches a broad audience through initiatives such as Public Works, which casts community members in a year-end musical pageant, and its Mobile Unit, which offers free Shakespeare productions at correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and community centers.

Similarly, through Still Waters Collective, Kelly has created a space where people—especially young people—can come together to listen and create poetry and spoken word pieces.

The transformative power of creativity

Named Artist of the Year in 2016 by the City of Milwaukee, and a nationally-respected writer, artist, and social entrepreneur, Dasha Kelly spoke at the Arts Midwest Conference Brunch. Photo by Catina Cole Photography.

Through her work, Kelly has witnessed firsthand the transformative power that creative expression has on participants.

“All of us in this room know that anytime you create, you’re also solving the problems of the world,” she said. “Without knowing it, these young people [at Still Waters Collective] were taking immense conversations like gentrification, and racism, and fatherlessness, and fear, and hope, and love, and breakups and distilling them down to a three minute performance piece.”

Ultimately, Kelly said, the magic of the creativity lies in its ability to create change and give voice to the issues facing our society. This power, she pointed out, is one held by every Conference attendee:

In this room, you have the privilege to use this network, your art, your gift, and your magic as artists to push the conversation.
–Dasha Kelly

Oskar Eustis and Dasha Kelly provided more than 1,000 Conference attendees with a call to action, one that reflects our own mission, values, and goals at Arts Midwest. By bringing these attendees together to receive this call, we join our colleagues as they create and present artistic experiences that spark open and accessible dialogues. Together as a community, we can move closer to creating experiences that unite us all.

Navigating a path to leadership

Adam Perry | Senior Program Director

Arts Midwest Senior Program Director Adam Perry speaks at the 2015 Arts Midwest Conference. Photo by Tiffany Rodgers.

Arts Midwest Senior Program Director Adam Perry received a Bush Fellowship in 2015. Below, Adam reflects on the first year of his fellowship, sets forth his hopes for the year ahead, and challenges us all to rethink our preconceptions about leadership.

In the 12 months since beginning my Bush Fellowship journey, I have traveled 33,576 miles (roughly 1.3 laps around the globe) and spent 76 hours in the air. On these travels, I explored opportunities to expand my network of arts management colleagues, as well as to strengthen my skills in leading and effecting change in the field.

A Walt Whitman mantra ran through my mind during this busy first year of exploration:

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 
Perhaps it is everywhere—on water and land.
–Walt Whitman

I am learning that to understand your leadership potential, you must travel a winding road through your own soulscape. You have to understand your body’s relationship to the earth and to the world in which you live.

As a person with a disability, I am uniquely aware of these notions on a different plane than most people experience. My body is touched, pulled, pushed, grabbed, and guided without my permission. I bounce and stumble, knock around, spill things, and get confused in busy spaces. But I also manage moments of physical grace that people with sight could never imagine.

It is all about balance and perspective. And it is my own road that no one else can travel.

Disavowing assumptions

People with disabilities are rarely in leadership positions in most professional settings. I get asked if I need help a hundred times a day. I rarely get asked for my help. How do I get people to think of me as a leader when they assume I cannot function without assistance?

Adam’s work at Arts Midwest has included leading Caravanserai: A place where cultures meet. This groundbreaking international cultural engagement initiative connected American audiences to exciting and dynamic artists from the Muslim world. Above: Moroccan ensemble Majid Bekkas Gnawa performs in Fayetteville, AR. Photo by Lindajoy Fenley.People think of leaders as having enhanced abilities and extraordinary capabilities. Thus, a large chunk of mileage on the road I travel is chewed up in disavowing people of their natural assumptions.

I challenge people to think differently, to consider the notion that I have extraordinary capability despite the fact that I need to use a cane to walk down my road.

Leadership is not far; it is within reach. The past 12 months propelled me on new pathways of discovery—I am merging the macro with the micro to explore the world and myself, mapping new terrain.

Are our views about arts and culture as divided as our politics?

Anne Romens | Program Director

On the eve of the presidential election it perhaps goes without saying that politically and socially, we’re a divided nation. But when it comes to public opinions about arts, culture, and creativity, where do we stand?

New research by Americans for the Arts and Ipsos Public Affairs looked closely at attitudes about arts and creativity in the United States and found some happy majorities. Indeed, their findings are not dissimilar from the research we conducted for our Creating Connection program on core values and behaviors that are held by a cross-section of the general public:

67% of those surveyed believe the arts unify and connect us, and engaging in creativity helps us understand one another; 87% believe arts and culture add value to our communities and enrich our quality of life; 90% believe students should receive an education in the arts, whether they’re in kindergarten, high school, or somewhere in between; and 77% believe art and creativity happen in both traditional and unexpected places—whether it’s a museum or theater, personal engagement in the home, or out in parks, airports, or the mall

Check out the full overview of this research on Americans for the Arts, refresh yourself on the Creating Connection messages that can help you tap in to these values, and then rest easy knowing that, at least for now, we can find something in common with our neighbors.

Meet the latest addition to the Arts Midwest World Fest tour

Joining the Arts Midwest World Fest tour across our region this fall is Lorraine Klaasen, born and raised in Soweto, South Africa. One of the few South African artists who have preserved the classic sound of Township Music, Klaasen continues to be the most distinctive sound to come out of South Africa.

Klaasen will electrify audiences with her dynamic stage presence in five Midwest communities:

  • October 16–22 | Forest City, IA
  • October 23–29 | Brookings, SD
  • October 30–November 5 | Wahpeton, ND
  • November 6–12 | Thief River Falls, MN
  • November 13–19 | Rhinelander, WI

Hailing from the Xilingol Grassland area of Inner Mongolia,  Anda Union will also tour the Midwest this fall, performing with traditional Mongolian instruments and presenting their unique singing style, commonly known as throat singing. This enchanting group began their tour in Lebanon, Illinois, but you can still catch them in the following communities:

  • October 2–8 | Plymouth, IN
  • October 9–15 | Adrian, MI
  • October 16–22 | Wilmington, OH

Visit artsmidwestworldfest.org for more details on these events.

Bring NEA Big Read to your community

A sample of books from NEA Big Read’s library. See the full library at neabigread.org. Photo by Joshua Feist.

NEA Big Read will soon be accepting applications from nonprofit organizations to develop community-wide reading programs based on books from the Big Read library. Stay tuned to neabigread.org for the upcoming announcement about the open application period beginning October 13, 2016.