Saturday, August 11, 2012

Time to retire the old refrain: "There's nothing to do in Cheyenne"

When I left the Wyoming Arts Council building after work on Friday, I did what I often do -- attend an arts event. Because I work in the arts, you might say that I left work to go to work. And on a Friday!

The event was an artist's reception at the Cheyenne Family YMCA. YMCA stands for Young Men's Christian Association. In the old days, young men of the Christian faith used to live and exercise at the local YMCA. It was a safe -- and inexpensive -- place to do both.

Now YMCAs are exercise meccas for men and women and children. The Cheyenne Y has some 7,000 members. My wife and daughter both work at the YMCA, and I work out at the Y. Some may be surprised to learn that the Y has an active arts program that includes exhibits, workshops and performances. It has a gallery adjacent to the front desk that features a new local artist each month.

The gallery was my destination on Friday. Tony James is August's featured artist. He's a fantastic photographer who specializes in landscapes. He has a knack for capturing the inner life of High Plains clouds, exposing them as they get ready to spew rain or snow or hail. He has an entire series of photos of aspen leaves, portraying them in different settings and different colorations. Tony had two pieces in this summer's Governor's Capitol Art Exhibition. One of them received a purchase award and now is part of the state's permanent collection.

Tony's wife Dee is also an artist. She's the power behind the recent renovation of the Cheyenne Artists Guild building in Holliday Park. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and had fallen on hard times. Using her considerable skills of persuasion, Dee talked Lowe's into donating $50,000 work of material and labor to completely redo the building. Artist Guild members wielded paint brushes and hammers, too. Go see the results and be impressed. Membership is up from about 50 to 200. New art is on the walls and the place now has a new furnace and space for year-round workshops. The city, which owns the building, will soon install a new roof. The Guild is one of the stops on the monthly Art Design & Dine Artwalk.

Tony and Dee James are forces of nature. They are both retired but are not retiring folks. Tony is a Cheyenne native and Dee is almost a Wyoming native, her family arriving in Wyoming from Kentucky when she was two. They are practicing artists and community organizers. Every day, they leave behind their work and go to work promoting the arts in the town that they love. People love to talk about Cheyenne as a place where volunteerism means something. Our largest annual event, Cheyenne Frontier Days, is volunteer-driven. My friend John Coe, a retired arts administrator an music composer, tells the story of moving from Cheyenne to Winchester, Kentucky, to take care of his aging mother. At his first Kiwanis meeting, John said he has just moved from Cheyenne. The Winchester Kiwanians besieged him with questions about the CFD pancake breakfast which, apparently, is known throughout the land.

Which just goes to show how important is it to give back to your community. And to make sure that your community has a solid arts infrastructure.

Since we moved to Cheyenne in 1991, my wife and children and I have played a role in the arts. So many others have done the same. So it's no accident that every night there are multiple offerings. No longer can my children say, "There's nothing to do in Cheyenne," although I still hear it occasionally. When I leave work every day, I can go home or I can attend an exhibit, a concert, a play. The summer schedule has been filled with events, and that continues as I look at the fall events listed on the Arts Cheyenne calendar. Go see for yourself at

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