CULTURE FRONT: As important as hospitals and highways

By on October 21, 2014

Examples of indigenous art: A petroglyph from Newspaper Rock State Park, Utah. Center of Wonder’s Lyndsay McCandless points out how art is deeply embedded in some indigenous cultures. Photo:

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – In a series of casual conversations, Culture Front and Center of Wonder discuss creating a cultural strategy for Jackson Hole. Last time we met, Center of Wonder presented an idea to create a database of all valley artists and cultural organizations. In this installment, we delve into the “why” behind knitting together creative folks to define a cultural vision.

Gary Silberberg: We want to bring the artists together, and also the organizations. The boards of cultural organizations have had little opportunity to operate in a larger context all together; that just hasn’t been part of how things have developed.

A common conversation among organizations in this town is how difficult it is to program with much lead-time because of the constant need to fundraise.

What Center of Wonder wants to do is facilitate a process in which the arts community itself is practically developing a vision for a more cohesive arts community. Center of Wonder is not driving that vision but instead wants to help identify where the opportunities and challenges are.

Lyndsay McCandless: We are cultivating seeds of creativity.

GS: The first step is understanding the landscape and the data, and seeing where are the holes and the opportunities. One of the opportunities Center of Wonder wants to address, as we talked about last time, is the creation of art. For us as an organization, artist-in-residence programs are one clear place to start.

LM: As well as our grants for local individual artists and organizations. Because supporting the people who are here creating work is also really important.

GS: If there is not a process, the creative community will continue jumping from one great idea to the next great idea, yet not really laying a good foundation. There is no question that the more the arts community takes this on in a deeper way, this valley will respond to that with audiences and resources.

LM: The “problems” we have in Jackson are problems most communities would want. We have an amazing group of organizations and artists here with a lot of great ideas. Now the question is how can they pull together to create a stronger collective impact by working together.

I’ve been learning lately that stepping back and asking questions is so important. It’s really easy to make assumptions and go along with the status quo. But we have an opportunity to look at programs and say how can we do this better, or how can we do this differently. Here in Jackson we have that capacity. Many of us are risk takers and innovative thinkers who want to take our projects to the next level.

GS: That’s part of the data too: What are those questions we need to be asking ourselves as an arts community? A question I have is, “Do the larger Jackson community and our elected officials fully understand, not only the economic benefit of the arts, but the other elements that the arts contribute to Jackson’s identity?”

LM: When the choreographer Bill T. Jones was here this summer, at one of his talks he said the arts are as important as hospitals and highways. And it’s true. The arts are important for our happiness and to keep our brains going, and of course for the economic benefits.

GS: The arts are not an indulgence or an elite pursuit.

LM: It’s sometimes easy for people to say the arts are a luxury. But the reality is, what would we do without music every day, or without books to read? In many indigenous cultures, there isn’t even a word for “art” because art is so embedded in their lives that it’s not separate.

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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