Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bruce Richardson: Wyoming leaps into the future as a great arts state

Many Wyomingarts readers have read Bruce Richardson's columns in the WAC's Wyoming Artscapes newsletter. Bruce stepped down as Wyoming Arts Council board chair this past summer, but is still on the board. He writes eloquently about Wyoming and the arts. Here's an op-ed piece that was published in the Oct. 10 Casper Star-Tribune:

Wyoming is a top arts state, right now!

By Bruce Richardson

The report on cultural activity in Wyoming released this week by the Wyoming Arts Council and presented by Governor Freudenthal tells a dramatic and important story. Wyoming is a leading state for culture and the arts with a ranking ahead of every state in the Mountain West except Colorado. Overall we are 34% ahead of the regional average. Many would identify New Mexico, with Santa Fe and Taos, as a national arts leader. It’s good, but not as good as Wyoming. We have more photographers, writers, choreographers and visual artists per capita than regional and national averages and we buy and sell visual art at an astounding rate: 123% higher than the national average. Leading the way is Jackson, perhaps the top arts town in the United States with an overall ranking an incredible eight times larger than the national average. Cody is three times the national average and we find strengths across the state with a wide distribution of creative jobs in many places.

I am not surprised. Everywhere I go I meet artists, see art making, hear about new books being written, meet musicians and mainly see regular folks singing, dancing, writing songs and going at photography in a serious way. An Arts Council survey of folk arts in Crook County found great work being done on almost every ranch and a report on Sheridan and Buffalo found 1,123 people working in the creative economy. Any weekend in Casper has a blitz of readings, performances, gallery openings, and museum activities. A list of what’s happening would fill this page.

The CVI statistics still may puzzle some. In absolute numbers a lightly populated state comes up short. Of course we have fewer photographers than California, but what really matters in arts and culture is not total numbers, but concentration. The CVI measures that. Wyoming, about the size of Cincinnati, has five large art museums (including one of the best for Western art), five professional symphony orchestras (including probably the best summer orchestra in the US), some ten playhouses, a concentration of bluegrass festivals and more, much more.

So what do we do about this?

• Congratulate ourselves! We’re a top arts place and plenty creative! Great scenery and great culture! And we’re just getting started.
• Treat the arts and creative economy as a serious part of the Wyoming economy worth investment and attention from the Business Council and economic development units everywhere.
• Realize that arts education is workforce development and the best way to build a creative workforce. How about arts integrated throughout the curriculum? How about putting arts in the Hathaway Success Curricula requirements? How about a Wyoming Arts High School? The town that builds that school will be a magnet and will leap into the future.
• Recognize that arts and civic vitality go together. Careful studies from the University of Pennsylvania show that places with high art activity have more active citizens, better living conditions and, this just in, happier people. See the piece about San Luis Obispo in last week’s Parade magazine. Smart city governments support the arts.
• Use arts in tourism promotion. The CVI shows that people come to Wyoming to buy art and they buy lots. Let’s lure more of this business.
• Keep at it. Arts and creativity are the ultimate individual activity. Go out and write a song and sing it online, build a kiln, give a kid a fiddle, have some folks over for music, buy a painting and you are doing something for yourself and everybody else.. No wonder that this individualist, can-do state has so much art and so many people are playing and working to build a creative future. Bravo!

Bruce Richardson ( is a board member of the Wyoming Arts Council.