Wyoming Arts Council

NEA Chair addresses national arts conference

NEA Chair Dana Gioia addressed last week’s National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’ conference in Baltimore. This is the second time in the past two months that Wyoming Arts Council staff members have heard him speak. In mid-October, Gioia traveled to Casper to speak at the first-ever Wyoming Arts Summit. This time, he spoke to us from a big screen in a hotel ballroom.

He returned to a topic he discussed at the Summit. There, he said that there were two kinds of people in the world: consumers, and consumers who do things. This first group tends to spend most of its time consuming. You get the image of couch potatoes and teens plugged into their electronic gaming devices. The second group conjures those people who watch TV and play video games, but who also play games together, attend plays, bowl, join a local club, march in the Fourth of July parade, sing in a choir, etc.

In Baltimore, Gioia slightly changed the definitions of these two groupings of Americans: non-participants on the one hand; participants/readers on the other. Different labels, same groups. The facts remain the same. Those people who do things together volunteer at a rate 400 percent higher than those who don’t. Studies show that arts participants also are more likely to join a bowling league or coach soccer. Readers, especially, have a tendency to exercise more and volunteer more than non-readers.

He chastised this national gathering of arts administrators. He said we’ve done a poor job of reaching out to the greater society. This is odd because most arts administrators seem to be participants to the core. But maybe we’re spending too much of our time talking to each other. This oversight and/or neglect may have alarming consequences.

“One-third of American teens are dropping out of high school,” said the electronic Gioia on the big screen. “Arts are the missing piece of the equation, both in education and in public life in general.”

Gioia likes the fact that a program he started three years ago, Poetry Out Loud, is appealing to some of those at-risk kids. This has been true in most states, Wyoming included. Five of the 12 particpating states in the first year of Wyoming Poetry Out Loud were from so-called “alternative high schools,” such as Triumph in Cheyenne. The third-place finisher in POL’s first year was a young man from Pathfinder High School in Lander.

But NEA programs such as Poetry Out Loud and The Big Read have “reached millions of people in each of your states,” said Gioia. “That’s a powerful way of making people your allies.

“And members of Congress want to see that we’re reaching every community in their state. We’ve been doing that and thousands of articles are being written about it.” He added with a laugh: “Poetry Out Loud is getting the same kind of coverage as high school football.”

For more info about Wyoming Poetry Out Loud, contact Mike Shay at the WAC at 307-777-5234.

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