On the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture: Robert Gard Foundation Mini-Grant Stories

Step 13 number 2Gard Foundation Mini-grant receipient: Cleveland Public Theatre’s Teen Step Program

In 2010, in celebration of his 100th birthday, the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation co-sponsored a symposium based on the late Robert Gard’s ideas. Gard’s working philosophy emphasized the empowerment of ordinary folk in communities large and small to tell their own stories. As he described in his landmark publication The Arts in the Small Community, he also believed in the capacity of the arts to help people engage with their stories, but also with their neighbors and their places in ways that catalyze community growth and change.

Once the symposium was completed, the foundation re-invested the remainder of their resources in community arts-related projects across the nation. These investments were chosen at the discretion of the Gard Foundation Board of Directors, and selection was based on the projects’ compatibility with the ethos of the foundation or an opportunity to engage from Gard’s perspective in significant national conversations.

image with logos. 2This is the center of the Storytellers Circle installed by the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation on  the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s scenic Muir Knoll. The purpose of this project was to revive Muir Knoll’s historic tradition as “Story-Teller’s Hill.” Muir Knoll is a tree-shaded knob of land on the northern edge of Bascom Hill overlooking Lake Mendota on the University of Wisconsin’s campus. To this end, the Gard Storytellers Circle invites anyone in to reflect upon, or express, their personal story as their creativity moves them. Photo Credit: Maryo Gard Ewell.

The result included small investments in seven mini-projects in rural and urban communities across Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin. Two board members represented the values of the Gard Foundation in national conversations, while the remainder of the board identified community-based projects to receive their allocations:

  • Vice-President of the Gard Foundation, Jennifer Armstrong, participated in the national Rural Arts and Culture Working Group symposium at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA
  • Vice-President Doug Borwick offered workshops based around Gard’s ideas and his own writing, Building Communities, Not Audiences
  • Caroline Beadle and Gerard McKenna identified a youth theater group bringing live theater to youth in suburban Chicago – many of whom were seeing theater for the first time
  • Maryo Gard Ewell identified a young DJ/composer, Jackson Melnick, of Crested Butte Colorado, who sought to collect original “songs of place” and do interviews with the songwriters throughout Colorado, exploring the relationship of their songs to their homes
  • Mark Lefebvre identified a southeastern Wisconsin little league team to be bringers of Wisconsin poetry to their fans
  • Mitch Menchaca identified the Gay Men’s Chorus in Washington, DC, whose outreach program offered support for creative youth
  • Barbara Strauss identified a theater group in Cleveland whose youth component wrote plays based on their own experience and toured them to Cleveland neighborhoods
Doc2An image of the Gard Foundation Project map and story composite on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture

Art of the Rural is proud to tell these stories in partnership with the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation during the Year of the Rural Arts 2014. The promotion of this work is particularly timely with our partnerships with the Wisconsin Arts Board and Arts Wisconsin on the Year of the Rural Arts in Wisconsin, and with the centennial celebration of the Smith Lever Act and the establishment of the Cooperative Extension Service. Robert Gard was among the first to use the arts and storytelling as a means of fulfilling the Smith Lever mandate. His work in Wisconsin is a fantastic model for other Cooperative Extension Service models to assess, particularly in conjunction with the efforts of the Imagining America Extension Reconsidered Initiative.

Please visit the Placestories page to view the mini-grant postcards: http://placestories.com/project/146118#v=stories

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