The North Dakota Council on the Arts held its annual convention last week in Bismarck. It was a great opportunity to appreciate, celebrate and envision the importance of arts in our community.

Storytelling was emphasized, pointing out the impact of stories that describe meaningful personal experiences. Stories connect us to each other and build strong and resilient communities. They confirm making a difference.

It is incredible to observe elders at Art4Life / Music4Life who close their eyes and quietly sing, tap their fingers and feet and slowly jibe to the tunes with gentle head nodding. They go back to earlier times in their lives, maybe a wedding dance at the Breckenridge Pavilion or a neighborly barn hayloft dance.

Stories validate facts. They show the arts positively impact big-picture aspects like loneliness, helplessness and boredom experienced by seniors.

Stories deliver information and are an invitation to conversation. They put emotions and passion to work. The listener fills in the details. Remember to listen to hear, not respond.

Partnerships are a must. Healthy communities have strong government, business, school, faith and non-profit partnerships. Wahpeton has a strong reputation and offered this session with Humanities North Dakota and the North Dakota Tourism Department.

The Red Door Art Gallery is a shining example. A volunteer – Roger Jensen envisioned its existence. The NDSCS Building Technology Program students renovated the interior. The City of Wahpeton provided grant funding. The Three Rivers Arts Council provided non-profit ownership. Support came from the North Dakota and Lake Region, MN Arts Councils. Another non-profit – the Red Door Art Gallery Board was formed to manage it. And there were many others.

The Red Door Art Gallery also helps fulfill Governor Doug Burgum’s Main Street initiative that emphasizes a healthy mix of business, culture, pedestrian access and green space. Arts bring public spaces to life and enrich our economy.

Funding agencies favor partnerships. Lise Erdrich did a fantastic job describing local affiliations to win National Endowment for the Arts grants for (1) downtown and zoo murals and (2) Sculpture Park. It is very rare for a city to get two NEA grants.

Art strategic planning is needed. It is imperative to identify what we need, need to do, need to change and how to get there. Art is based on hope and provides a sense of value.

Every town is an art city if you look close enough. To claim the likes of Fritz Scholder (Native American painter), the Erdrich family (writers) and Shawn McCann (mural painter and chalk artist) is phenomenal.

Advocacy for the arts is critical as every voice matters. Be relentless. People need to hear the same message several times before it sinks in.

There is powerful data that economically disadvantaged students who get arts education are much less likely to drop out of school.

Art is so interesting with many different ways to see the same thing. Even placing yourself at different physical locations while observing public art show completely different perspectives.

We often hear that government should be run like a business. Government’s roles include making life good for its citizens while businesses want to turn a financial profit. Of course, the government should be run fiscally responsible.

Small personal actions can change the landscape. It can be like Janet Gagelin writing a local cemetery history. Many of our educators who teach children are artists. They are cultivating young imaginations of future leaders.

We learned about the importance of influencing government officials, including Park Boards, City Councils and the State Legislature. Public art needs to be at the table and it takes passionate supporters to make things happen.

The arts support community vitality. They are critical to help influence young people to live here.

Wayne Beyer is the director of

Wahpeton Parks and Rec.

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