Thursday, May 3, 2012

Artist in REZidence

For the past five years or so, we have been driving up to White Earth, MN for various cultural camps including winter story camp, berry camp and ricing camp.  At these camps we have learned about the language, culture, crafts, and the harvesting and processing of traditional foods.  We have also built relationships.

During one of those trips, we visited with Anne Dunn, a remarkable storyteller and author who took us over to meet her daughter, Annie Humphrey.  Annie is a singer/songwriter and a recording artist whose music has been used in movie scores.  We also found out that she is a visual artist.  When we met Annie, she was painting her cupboards, with trees, animals and symbols.  We also noticed that her tables and chairs had also been painted.

This got us thinking.  Amy is a middle school teacher and in Wisconsin, Act 31 requires that schools teach about Wisconsin Indians' History and Culture.  As music teacher, how could she integrate what she had been learning at these camps into the curriculum?  On the long drive back to Wisconsin, we would bounce ideas off of each other and one idea was to have an “Artist in Residence” program and the perfect person would be Annie Humphrey.

A vision was cast but there were several hurdles to overcome.  What would the program look like?  Could we raise the money to make this a reality?  Could schedules be coordinated?  Would there be enough time to complete the goals?

Through community networking, the vision started becoming reality.  We were encouraged to write a grant to the Racine Arts Council and to our delight, we were given the largest grant for that cycle.  Although a partnership with another community organization fell through, the Racine YMCA stepped in, along with the Kiwanis of Racine and the Golden Rondelle.

Last week, Annie Humphrey spent a week in Racine, working with the middle schools students at Starbuck Middle School.  The goals for the week were to educated students about Native American culture and music, complete a mural with the art students, compose a song with the choir students and to debut the song during a concert featuring the students.

One week ago today, we were running from early morning until late at night and wondering  if we were going to accomplish our goals but Annie, Amy and the students accomplished this and more.

Annie enjoyed meeting the students!  She asked Amy if she could speak to her enrichment class (like a study hall).  When she found out a student played the violin she invited him to accompany the choir at the end of the week.  She discovered a girl in the general music was a natural at playing the flute and invited her to “join the band”. 

What impressed me most was watching this woman from the reservation engaging all the students, regardless of their ethnic or socio-economic background and in return, seeing how the students embraced her.  She was a natural in drawing out their hidden talents and they responded to that.  In the end, many wished that they had more time with Annie and she herself remarked that she was exhausted because the kids always wanted more!  But she also said she wouldn’t have it any other way because she enjoyed giving.

While the highlight of the week was supposed to be the unveiling of the mural and the performance of the song that Annie and the students composed, I think it actually was the lives that were touched and the relationships that were built. 

As we packed up after the concert, Annie went over to the chalkboard and began writing, “I just wanted to tell you what a great week I spent here with all of you.  Be Good, Be Strong, and always Be Brave. Love, Annie”

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