People filled tables at the Lander Community and Convention Center main hall on Friday afternoon at the Wyoming Arts Summit to hear the lunchtime keynote speaker. More than 250 gathered from all corners of Wyoming and everywhere between for the Nov. 2-4 event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wyoming Arts Council and arts throughout the state.
Some were Wyoming arts leaders there to lead talks and workshops about their projects in museums, galleries, nonprofit organizations, performance spaces, art studios, schools and community services. The topics and conversations afterward ranged from the practical to big picture to inspirational, Wyoming Arts Council Director Michael Lange said.
“We have over 250 people here,” Lange added. “And they are taking part in having strong and engaging conversations about how they can support their communities in a really meaningful way.”
The conference also brought national leaders in the arts, including internationally-acclaimed speaker, Kealoha, Hawaii’s first poet laureate and “National Poetry Slam Legend” who’s studied nuclear physics at MIT.
His keynote talk Friday afternoon about science and art — interspersed with poetry, storytelling and theater — drew applause and cheers from the crowd. He ended by asking them to think about their life here — not at the 50th anniversary of the Wyoming Arts Council, but in this world, galaxy and universe.
“Our lives are temporary art pieces. We are works in progress, so I say paint your butt off. Use fluorescent yellows and reds in the places where there aren’t any color, dance the moments of your life...,” he said, spreading his arms in wide, imaginary paint strokes followed by a little dance. “Be the expressive process that is humanity. Today, I want you to think about your life, and tomorrow, I want you to live it.”
The audience next heard short presentations about projects around the state. One of them involves working with students to retell Native American stories through virtual reality with music and artwork.
Just a few more included a traveling exhibition with art and researchers’ robot birds that teaches children about sage grouse; a dozen women around Wyoming who long-distance planned a group show in North Carolina; a Wyoming writer and play director inspired by the landscapes and support for arts in rural Iceland; and Wyoming performing artist Paul Taylor who brings 27 years of his learning from an Aboriginal elder to children around Wyoming through art, stories, dance and music.
Later, a couple of impromptu skits on stage with Wyoming Sen. Cale Case and others gave arts advocates a chance to practice talking with those who make funding and policy decisions during a discussion with Wyoming Arts Alliance leaders.
Attendees and presenters met and shared ideas in the hallways, tables and lounge at the conference between workshops and presentations. One hot topic was how the national Turnaround Arts program from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts improves struggling schools around the country and could be used in Wyoming, Lange said.
“I feel like we’re right on the edge of that being a really meaningful conversation for our state,” Lange said.
Artists also shared and learned about what others around the state have been working on. Central Wyoming College English professor and musician Ben Evans attended the arts summit with copies of a new album by his rock band, Ben Evans & Crazy Honey.
“I really wanted to meet fellow Wyoming artists, and find inspiration in what they’re doing and try to more fully enter the arts community,” he said. “It was a source of pride and inspiration that I could meet such passionate artists from Wyoming and also from around the world.”
The summit is the kind of “scaffolding of relationships” that’s important, especially in Wyoming, Taylor said after his presentation.
“We collaborate, we talk, we spend time together and figure out ways to bring more art to Wyoming communities,” he said. “And the quality of the speakers has been excellent. It’s an inspiration for all those working in Wyoming, because we’re often so remote in our communities. This is important because we’re really all one big family.”