A recurring conversation that I am part of on a relatively regular basis is how to engage the many rural communities that surround the metro area in our arts programming. I have a suggestion: why aren’t we engaging in their arts programming more?
I had a really wonderful opportunity in June to attend an event in Buffalo, N.D., to raise funds for the restoration of their 1916 high school. This small community has created the Buffalo Historic Society to turn this beautiful, but long-abandoned, Classic Revival building into a center for learning, education and artistic opportunities.
The fundraiser included wine tastings and a lovely catered meal, but the real highlight was actor Joe Wiegand, the world’s premier Theodore Roosevelt reprisor. From the minute he joined us at dinner, President Roosevelt was in our midst. He talked to each of us who were there, and then after dinner, we met in the top-floor study hall to listen to nearly 90 minutes of Theodore Roosevelt’s personal accounts.
It was 90 magical minutes.
When I think about the grainy, jumpy images I have seen of President Roosevelt, I always recall that great big, toothy smile, those pincer glasses, the mustache and his bold gestures. Joe Wiegand looks and acts so much like Teddy Roosevelt that if he had had any designs on a different career, it would have been a waste.
The performance would have been electrifying anywhere, but there was something even more wonderful about it because of the fact that I was in Buffalo, population 197.
Living in Fargo, close to downtown, it’s easy to get myopic about all that we have to offer in the “big city.” After all, aren’t we where the big bands are coming, the big arts programming is being created and the sophisticated arts community lives?
Not necessarily so.
A major part of what made this particular evening so special was that it was so incredibly intentional. It was elegant; it was sophisticated. It drew people from all over Cass County and beyond. When was the last time much of the arts programming in Fargo could say that?
An investment of this magnitude for such a small community is no small feat. This restoration is truly a community-wide project. Rather than tear down this historic building or just let it decline through the years, Buffalo has taken control of its community by transforming the past into a present and future asset.
But Buffalo is not the only rural community doing work that would surprise those of us who believe there nothing of artistic interest or value “out in the country.”
Casselton, N.D., has a long history of excellent arts programming. They do a community theater summer production that engages many in the community and draws people from all over the area.
Casselton has also done a beautiful job of restoring the Stone Church into a community asset for meetings, arts programming, gatherings and more.
Kindred, N.D., hosts a community-wide Veterans Day program every year that I have never seen rivaled. Nearly 120 third- and fourth-graders annually sing a patriotic music program without a single lyric in front of them. They perform everything from “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” to “You’re a Grand Old Flag” to each of the four branches of the military’s theme songs and so much more.
This is art working at amongst its highest level. These school-aged kids are learning the value of patriotism, they are honoring veterans from their community, and they are getting a firsthand understanding of how important the arts can be in uniting people around a cause.
Crooked Lane Farm Folk School near Colfax, N.D., is a renaissance of the family farm of Brent Larson and Mary Jo Schmid. Rather than let this multi-generational farm decline, Brent and Mary Jo have created an artistic oasis for many to enjoy in a variety of forms—music, art-making, woodworking and more are transforming this quiet little farmstead into a bustling art center.
These are just a few examples of exceptional art being produced all around the metro that the great majority of us who live in the metro are not taking advantage of.
If we are serious about engaging our rural neighbors in the valuable arts that are happening inside the metro, let me encourage you all to get in your car and drive out of town to find some of the art they are producing in their own communities. Let’s be reciprocal about celebrating the work being done in and out of the F-M area. It’s all worth attending, worth celebrating and worth supporting.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, July 6, 2015, issue of the paper.