Last night, along with about 400 other people, I attended the Kansas Governor’s Arts Awards, held just hours after the Senate’s Federal and State Affairs committee voted against our governor’s order to abolish the Kansas Arts Commission. While it’s still a long road between here and another year of Governor’s Arts Awards in 2012 — which would be another year of the Kansas Arts Commission — the mood was jubilant, the trays of filo-dough-wrapped-asparagus were plentiful, and the awards ceremony itself was a beautiful blend of humor, tenderness, strength, art and wisdom.
The ceremony began with my poem (see below), an convocation to come together, and ended with Kelley Hunt singing her heart-rending version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In between, the astonishing Allegro Community Children’s Choir sang the most beautiful versions of “Home on the Range,” “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner” I ever heard; Henry Schwaller IV, the brave chair of the Kansas Arts Commission, spoke eloquently about the arts in Kansas — as did Senate President Steve Morris and the sponsor of opposing the governor’s order, Sen. Roger Reitz.
Then there were the honorees — winners of the Artist Innovation Grant Recipents — Kristin Beal-DeGrandmont, Reena Berger-Natenberg, Kim Cihler, Diane Glancy, Mari LaCure, Lacy Johnson, Gabriel Lewis-O’Connor, Lucia Orth, and Erika Nelson — and Artist Collaboration Grant Recipients — Marcia Cebulska, Patrick Duegaw, Stephanie Lanter and Francisca Maria Velasco. The governor’s arts awards winners, each by each, further broke open our hearts:
- Louis Copt, a long time painter and teacher, put out the clarion call, reminding us that “Now is the time to increase funding for the arts,” not cut it, and he also noted that the fiscal mess we find ourselves in has nothing to do with the arts.
- Arts advocate Willa Griswold of Marysville, who put years into creating a vital arts center in her community, shared that her philosophy was “Art paints the dust our lives.”
- Martha E. “Betty” Muncy of Dodge City, an arts patron who has given more than $250,000 to renovate the Santa Fe Train Depot and establish the city’s Depot Theatre Company, told us that no matter who you are, you can help support the arts.
- The Arkansas City Area Arts Council — being honored for 48 years of innovative and engaging arts programs — also was celebrating raising $2.7 million to renovate a keystone historic theater.
- Linda Reimond, being honored for founding the first arts-based preschool in the Midwest in my hometown of Lawrence, spoke about how art strengthens and develops us.
- Finally, the distinguished arts awardee, writer Sara Paretsky, reminded us how words are breath, and what survives from one age into another is art, which shows us how to be human.
By the end of the night, thanks to the delights of Lawrence High School’s video “Sunflower” and the music of the Doug Talley Quartet, I was lifted on the energy of what we can create, and what we can create together. Thanks to the staff of the Kansas Arts Commission, and event produce Margaret Weisbrod Morris, for such a powerful night.
Here is the poem I wrote for the occasion:
The Language of Art
The world reveals itself in leaf fall and story, unfolds its limbs
across canvas or screen, all we know spoken in the language of art.
How else to see the expanse of dark upon dark that brings forth
an infinity of stars? How else to feel the quick lifting of the chest,
arms opening wide? How else to hear birdsong or falling sleet?
Art maps the continual pulse of the wind in the reddening branches,
the stories of impossible loss and forgiveness articulating the heart’s
flaws and yearnings, the rising call of one voice winding around another
to break us open in love. This is the song of time’s mechanics and mystery:
the understanding in our bones, the layers of history held in rock,
the weather unfurling across the shimmering tilt of changing land.
The painting’s finger lines of fire tracing slope and expanse show us
slope and expanse. The end of the novel proves how each moment
is composed of signs and wonders. The nested stories of ancestors
and those not yet born call through motion or sound from the
other side of the horizon. All who come to the fire of this language
make visible the visible world. How can we not open wide
the closed places in time, budget or intent to speak this language
of heron and chorus? How can we not return, how can we not begin
again and continue, how can we not come home to the words of days
so that we can hear what the world asks of us, and how we will answer?