Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wyoming Millennial artists doin' it for themselves

I spent my afternoon at the U today.

That's U as in University of Wyoming in Laramie. It's the state's only four-year public university. Many of its leaders, including ones that I can't stomach such as war profiteer Dick Cheney, reactionary U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and Tea Party fave Ron Micheli, graduated from UW. On the plus side, former Democratic Governor Dave Freudenthal was a UW grad, as was artist Dick Termes, literary publisher Rick Campbell, mountain climber Todd Skinner, artist Sue Sommers and basketball jump-shot pioneer Kenny Sailors.

Chris Drury's sculpture, Carbon Sink: What
Goes Around, Comes Around
one of the many fine public art works
 on the UW campus.
Pretty campus, especially on a late-summer Saturday afternoon. Kudos for the UW Buildings & Grounds crew for its love of fragrant petunias. It's an aggie campus after all, founded to provide diplomas and wives for the sons of cattle and oil barons. It's moved a damn sight further along, graduating strong women in fields such as geology and law and the arts. And the aggie tradition is still strong, although taking paths that stress biodiversity and sustainability over corporate farming and ranching.

As we walked, a group of male and female students played a game of Frisbee football on Prexy's Pasture. Over on frat row, there was a “Greek Week” party going on that involved a massive slip-n-slide -- great way to spend a hot day.

My wife Chris and I are several decades removed from Greek Week on our own campuses of origin. I never rushed a frat. I started college in 1969 and frats were about as relevant as its Greek alphabet. My frat friends at the University of South Carolina seemed to have more dates and better drugs. In fact, they did have more dates and better drugs. I was able to maintain my dignity by looking down my nose at frat boys, possibly the origin of my very annoying Liberal Know-It-Allness.

Chris and I smelled the state-subsidized flowers and investigated the public art, such as Chris Drury's "Carbon Sink" (see photo). UW has gone in for public art in a big way. In fact, it has gone in for all art forms in a big way. This is why the largest campus construction project is the new visual arts building. It is located adjacent to the UW Art Museum and, when completed later this year, will be the largest and most complete visual arts facility in the Rocky Mountain West. Right now, the visual arts department shares a building with theatre and dance and music. There regularly are brawls, pitting the Sharks & Jets' thespians against post-modern neo-formalist painters.

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It's just our bringin' up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are sculptors
Our fathers play the drums.
Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Doesn’t rhyme, but you get the picture.

After the visual artists move to their new building, the Fine Arts Building will be inhabited only by performing artists. They always get along famously.

We saw some of them in action today.

Chris and I attended a screening of a film inhabited by UW actors and musicians and Laramie roller derby skaters.

O.K., it's bit of a strange combo. But it made for an entertaining 7-minute short.

K. Harrison Sweeney is the filmmaker. He graduated in 1996 from Worland High School in the Big Horn Basin and UW in 2001. He moved to L.A. and has acted in commercials and TV. He now wants to make movies in Wyoming, and will soon be moving back to do just that.

More than 100 people gathered Saturday in the UW Fine Arts Theatre to see a screening of "Undead Lovers." Chris and I were not the only Baby Boomers in the house. Cheyenne native and melodrama Sheriff Paul Sahler was there -- he has a role in the film. Paul and Lynn Montoya, long-time arts supporters and owners of a B&B near Vedauwoo, also attended.

Almost everyone else was a Millennial. Dancers, actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers, roller derby dames. Some were in the film; others were there because they thought it was cool and worth supporting. Sheridan's Micah Wyatt (barefoot as always) performed his music as we went into the film. Laramie's Upbeat Project ("Pure Wyoming Reggae") played while we schmoozed at the reception.

Some very talented people in this windswept state of ours. Keeping them here is a challenge. They need to find ways to support themselves through their art. I work for the Wyoming Arts Council. We make a dent in the artistic poverty rate -- but just a dent. We are playing catch-up when it comes to creative ways to support our artists. We lack creativity. That would be funny (ironic funny) if it weren't so sad.

The best I could do Saturday was encourage all these young creatives to meet me at the WAC so we can come up with new ways to make Wyoming work for them. They are working for Wyoming but Wyoming may not be working for them.

Chris and I have one young creative (son Kevin, 26) who works in theatre in Tucson. We have another one (daughter Annie, 18) who is about to lave the nest for the very creative clime of Tallahassee, Florida. Both university towns. Both communities with younger populations. Strangely enough, they are both in Sun Belt states run by Tea Party governors and legislatures who care little or nothing for the future. The Arizona Arts Commission has been slashed to the bone. Even though artists are scrambling, they are finding new and interesting ways to make it. But will they?

Micah Wyatt's (The Barefoot Band) feet 
Chris and I were among the last to leave the festivities at the UW Fine Arts Building ("The Things That Wouldn't Leave!"). Beautiful evening in the Laramie Range. The slanting sun lit up the rocks of Vedauwoo as a dark curtain of rain fell in the distance. It's beautiful, this place. But as is often said: "You can't eat the scenery."

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