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Kealoha, an internationally-acclaimed poet, storyteller and the first poet laureate of Hawaii, is the keynote speaker of the Wyoming Arts Summit next weekend.

In a large state of small communities, many artists and groups work to make the places they live more enjoyable and thought-provoking. The Wyoming Arts Summit this weekend is a chance for them to connect.

The three-day event Thursday through Saturday in Lander features talks and workshops with national and state leaders in the arts for advocates, organizations, teachers and artists to learn and share ideas. The summit will also host two evenings of live music and a downtown Lander art walk, all of which is free and open to the public.

The summit also celebrates the Wyoming Arts Council‘s 50th year of providing money and organizational support for arts throughout the state. An arts summit on this scale is rare though — the last event like it hasn’t occurred since the council turned 40, said its executive director Michael Lange.

“One of the ways that we provide services to the state is as a connector, to get people in the room, to get folks talking and to get folks learning,” Lange said. “We feel that one of the best ways we can do this in such a large state is to gather people in convenings and conferences like this.”

The summit kicks off Thursday with a reception celebrating each of the recipients of the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowships in literary, performance and visual arts since the program began in 1980, Lange said.

Next, the free Wyoming Arts Council’s 50th Anniversary Concert features the University of Wyoming Symphony Orchestra and Northwest College Studio Singers performing pieces commissioned for the occasion. Other performers include the Wind River Dancers and Wyoming Basque poet Martin Goicoechea, who’s a 2003 National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellow.

The council’s Wyoming Independent Music Initiative features a pair of shows Friday Nov. 3, spotlighting Wyoming singer/songwriters and bands. Friday also features an Art Walk in downtown Lander with exhibition openings including the Lander Arts Center’s “Around Town: Native American Art Show.” The 50th anniversary concert, musician showcase and self-guided art walk are free and don’t require summit registration.

Three leaders on the national arts stage will give keynote talks and lead sessions at the summit, including Kealoha, an internationally-acclaimed poet, storyteller and the first poet laureate of Hawaii. The keynote lineup also includes Maria Lopez De León, president and CEO of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. She was named one of the nation’s Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts in 2012 and 2013, and she has served on the National Council on the Arts since appointed by President Obama in 2013. The closing keynote speaker is Savannah Barrett, director of programs for Art of the Rural. The Kentucky nonprofit focuses on supporting arts in rural communities and contributing to the emerging rural arts and culture movement, according to its website.

Summit attendees can meet and learn from many Wyoming leaders in professional development sessions and network with the more than 200 attendees signed up so far, Lange said. In Wyoming, local artists and arts administrators play a large role in opportunities to experience and be involved in arts, Lange said.

“They’re kind of the only show in town,” Lange said. “They’re the only ones doing that work inside their communities, because we have small communities.”

Summit topics include grant writing, Wyoming arts education, public art and how art can impact people with disabilities or dementia. Session leaders include organizers of successful arts nonprofits, artists, educators, advocacy groups and the owner of one of Wyoming’s few independent presses.

There’s even chances to hear Wyoming’s poet laureate, Gene Gagliano, read some of his work along with other performances throughout the three days.

“A gathering like this really is a unique opportunity to bring those folks together, so they can learn from one another,” Lange said. “They can better their craft. So the arts administrators, it gives them the ability to offer better services to their communities. For the artists, it lets them explore their work and explore their creativity in a new way — helping them be better artists and better able to serve their communities as well.”

Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner


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