"Railroad Cisco of the Tonkawa Tribe describing the tribe's journey from Texas to Oklahoma in the 1880's, and the Land Run that followed in 1893," a mural sketch by Dave Loewenstein
Whether or not you're living in the center of the country, if you're interested in the arts--and how the arts engage with community life--I'd highly recommend visiting the Mid-America Arts Alliance. The Alliance works within both urban and rural communities and provides, by its estimation, "over 850 performances and exhibitions and some 6,000 related educational programs to over one million people annually." Here's how they describe their mission:
Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) was created to support and stimulate cultural activity in communities throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Based in the heartland, M-AAA now creates and manages regional, multi-regional, national, and international programs including traveling exhibitions, performing arts touring, and professional and community development.
Countless stories can be told about arts experiences in the communities that Mid-America Arts Alliance serves with performances, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, master classes, school tours, radio broadcasts, artist residencies, community projects, and lectures. For these communities the arts truly are a source of lifelong learning and renewal.
These notions of storytelling and renewal are central to one of their current efforts: The Mural Project. From March through September, muralist Dave Loewenstein will be working with local artists and community members to conceptualize, design and paint mural projects throughout Oklahoma and Kansas. In the M-AAA's words, it's a "collaborative process driven by local people often with the guidance and technical assistance of professional artists;" thus, while the community becomes involved, Mr. Loewenstein will also be offering training and inspiration for a series of emerging mural artists who can continue the work of The Mural Project long past its conclusion in September.
The Mid-America Arts Alliance have developed a brilliant and multifaceted program here--and it's reinforced by their idea to ask Mr. Loewenstein and his collaborators to blog about the process and experience of attempting this project. Dave Loewenstein's Mural Journal is currently featuring some posts that describe the research phase of a project in Tonkawa, Oklahoma. The collaborators have visited the town's archives for research and gone out to the local diners and gathering spots to learn more. Mr. Loewenstein's entry on speaking with Tonkawa Tribal President Don Patterson is a meaningful example of how these artists must grapple with the complicated history of the place--from its Native American legacy forward:
Over and over during our research we have heard that the land, how it's settled and the resources it provides are fundamental to the identity of Tonkawa. At our last mural design team meeting, residents reflected on the legacy of the oil boom & bust years, the coming and going of the railroad, memories of the Salt Fork and Chikaskia rivers, and the steadfastness of local farmers some of whom have passed their land on to descendants for more than a century. And although there was a certain sense of pride expressed in what had help establish Tonkawa, some on the design team wondered aloud if looking backward in time, the way many murals in the area do, was enough, especially in light of ongoing economic challenges facing both the tribe and town. A few folks suggested that the mural might be more meaningful to young people if it expressed an acknowledgment of present circumstances, cultural diversity, and a vision for the future in addition to references from the past.
The beauty of this blog is that we'll get to see how these artists work through the challenges of representing, and speaking to, these issues. To explore Tonkawa further, click here for a video update on The Mural Project. Mr. Loewstein's site also has a rich and various portfolio of murals, sketches an other visual work.