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Stories, Stats, Impacts: Wyoming Public Media is here to keep you current on the news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Fremont County art center looks to support artists of every age despite COVID isolation

A watercolor painting of a bison hangs in the Lander Art Center during the Aubudon 2022 show.
Young local artist Tripp Hubble was hesitant to submit his piece "Thunder Bull" in watercolor, but The Lander Art Center supported him, and the piece sold for $75 at the centers Audubon 2022 show.

During the pandemic, many in isolation have picked up new ways to occupy their time, including learning how to create art. Wyoming Public Radio's Taylar Stagner spoke with Lander Art Center Director Doug Spriggs about how the Fremont County art center is supporting new artists young and old.

Doug Spriggs: I believe, based upon all the data that I've looked at, whether that be donors or whether that'd be purchasers or students, or people calling in, I would estimate it at roughly one in every third person you talk to in Fremont County is connected to the arts in a very intimate way. And that you are no more than one degree of separation from somebody who is greatly and profoundly affected, whether it's through art education, or whether that's as an artist, or whether that's a woodworker or metal artist. However you look at it, you're one degree of separation away from somebody who is intimately connected with the arts in the Art Center.

This year, we'll be integrating a Creative Aging program into our educational program. And the Creative Aging program will be a blended program between the elderly, as well as youth, as well as specifically geared towards the elderly in our community, and really getting them into the healing power and effects of art throughout the community, as well as looking at the overall effect that art has in the business world within the community and how those two overlap one another.

Taylar Stagner: Can you talk a little bit more about coming out of COVID. And what you're seeing in the Central Wyoming art community are there more people sticking with maybe newfound hobbies or projects?

DS: So a little bit of both, I wouldn't call it necessarily hobbies, but people are looking for ways to really enhance their lives, and the arts offer a broad opportunity for that to happen. We talked about coming out of COVID. And we're not really coming out of COVID, I see that Fremont County School District 25 is going back to virtual learning again, for a couple of weeks. And so what I'm really seeing is people who are appreciating the expression of art through their world, and the healing power of not only coming to the gallery and seeing art, but seeing people work on art as our students in our classes, and really finding joy in getting out of the house and seeing creative people express themselves in healthy manners.

And we've had participants all the way from New York to California, in our virtual classes. And it's really enhanced not only education in this community, but has brought culture together very well and expanded our cultural expanse. And those conversations that take place within those classes, and people learning and growing together has been exponential to the growth of people in general.

TS: Can you talk a little bit about just staying on the education thing? The importance of teaching classes from youth to, you said earlier, older people? And can you tell me a little bit about the importance of being a lifelong study of art?

DS: The foundations of art are really the same regardless of your age, and your experience, within that, can be utilized to be given to the youth, or you could be picking up from a youth. Really what it does serving such a broad age range is it brings people together to kind of break down those cultural barriers and generational barriers between one another and shows the importance of not only the issues that are affecting our youth today, as well as the elderly, it gives them space to see that we're all in this together. We're all a community. And it really takes down the stereotypes of preconceived notions about age.

TS: We hear a lot about the importance of our health, physical health, because of COVID but mental health and how the pandemic has really put a stress on us mentally. Can you tell me a little bit about how arts, especially in a rural area, such as we are, how art can help contribute to the overall well-being of a person?

DS: So the overall well-being and the health through the arts. It can be seen through our open air classes where you actually go out with people into nature, and you're learning the techniques of expression and having more of a meditative art practice. But it's not just through that. It's through that connection to people and going through something very specific can be expressed through the arts.

For example, COVID. Everybody went through COVID. But outside of COVID everybody has their own life circumstances that are contributing to their overall general health, and art really gives the opportunity for those barriers to be dropped. And for people to talk about the harder issues and to delve into conversations and learn that they aren't the only one in this.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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