2023 Expectations: Happy New Year!

Happy 2023! Stay tuned to hear from two Wyoming natives. Writer Rod Miller. Rod was born into a ranching family that has been in Wyoming since 1867. He is a well-known columnist for the Cowboy State Daily.  And Michael Lange from Riverton, musician, and Executive Director of the Wyoming Arts Council. Two different and intriguing perspectives on their life, work and living change in Wyoming.

They both have lived change in Wyoming. Their perspectives are diverse. They give us insight into the here and now as well as what do want or see as change in the state of Wyoming. 

“But we're powerless against that universal force and stasis, actually. When things don't change, they die and putrefy, decompose. So change is good. But by the same token, just changing for change's sake, I think is only accidentally constructive. It gets us out of a rut but thrusts us into an unknown situation that we may not be able to control.” -Rod Miller

“And as I talked about earlier, how the arts inside of education can really help students understand themselves, can really help students understand people who they have differing views with, and really help build the workforce, the 21st century workforce, around bringing creativity and critical thinking to the table.” -Michael Lange

Check out these websites to learn more:

All Things Rod Miller

Wyoming Arts Council

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Emy DiGrappa (00:01):

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land, and the winds of change and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns? Listen to folks from across our state share their connection to Wyoming and home. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities.

(00:53):

Hi, Lucas. Hi, Chloe. How you guys doing?

Lucas Fralick (00:54):

Good. I'm great. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. It's exciting.

Chloe Flagg (00:54):

Doing great. I'm really excited for this episode.

Emy DiGrappa (01:02):

When we started and we had a vision of what we wanted to do, and it's morphed along the way, but I'm really happy with it. For me, for this year, I want to announce that we are doing something new and wonderful for our podcast listeners. We are doing a podcast newsletter. And so, you can sign up, you can go to our website, thinkwy.org, and when we start sending out newsletters, you'll be on the list and you'll learn a little bit more about each of the guests. You'll learn a little bit more about history, maybe some insights or things that we didn't have a chance to talk about.

Lucas Fralick (01:40):

Yeah, I love a good newsletter. You can never go wrong with getting something in your inbox. And what's great is that it's free with every listen.

Emy DiGrappa (01:48):

Well, I'm going to go back just a little bit because I was just thinking for our audience because just to recap another thing that I want people to focus on. As we move forward, is that we are still talking about that our Winds of Change podcast is all Wyoming-centric. It's all centered around Wyoming people, places history and stories of Wyoming.

Chloe Flagg (02:10):

And I think that is what I have loved so much about this podcast, is that I've lived in Wyoming my whole life, both of my parents have lived in Wyoming their whole lives, my grandparents, and there is still so much to learn. And I feel like every single episode that we have had, whether it's been from the incredible experts that we've had talking about the Jack A. Lope or Yellowstone, I've learned something every single time. I think that that's really exciting to learn something about our state, but then also to have these really fantastic personal narratives from Wyoming Knights themselves.

Lucas Fralick (02:49):

Yeah, I think it's a great example of how Wyoming is more than just a oblong-shaped square, that we are in fact full of a lot of intellectual diversity.

Chloe Flagg (03:04):

When I think about this podcast, just like you said in the beginning, Emy, it is so Wyoming-centric. We are focusing on the history, the places, the people, the stories of Wyoming. And I would love it if people not from Wyoming would listen to this podcast, because when you think about Wyoming, when other states think about Wyoming, when people from other places think about Wyoming, number one, they wonder, does it even exist? Yes, it does.

(03:34):

Number two, they think a lot of the generic things we think about, that we're an energy producing state. That is our national, maybe even global calling card. But there's so much more going on here. The cultural economy, the creative economy is massive, and I think we touch on that regularly throughout the podcast, throughout the episode. We started out with a vision of what we thought it would be, and it really has morphed and I love that it's grown into something even bigger than we thought it would ever be. So I'm really excited to see where we go.

Emy DiGrappa (04:16):

Well, one of the things I wanted to ask the two of you is what are some of the themes that would be really fun and interesting to focus on? Because I have a couple that I wrote down, and one would be small world stories, where you're in an airport and someone's wearing a UW and you immediately have a connection, even though you don't know this person.

Lucas Fralick (04:41):

I was thinking along the similar lines too, is that there's been a lot of growth in the chess playing community in Wyoming also. It's another avenue to explore at some point. I'm sure everyone would love to listen to that. I'd be shocked if no one wanted to hear about that.

Chloe Flagg (05:01):

Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to laugh, Lucas.

Lucas Fralick (05:03):

No, it's okay. I hear it all the time.

Chloe Flagg (05:10):

No, I think for people outside of that chess community, because it is a community, it's just like anything. People that are really into that particular thing, chess, are really into it. And I think providing some of that inside perspective to someone like me who's not in it and maybe not even super interested in chess, I still think would be great. I'm still very interested in understanding why it is so exciting.

Lucas Fralick (05:42):

You haven't really lived until you've heard a good debate between E4 and D4. To all those chess players listening, you know what I mean?

Emy DiGrappa (05:55):

I'm a chess player, but just not like you, Lucas. I don't carry my chess board with me to the bar or to the coffee shop or wherever. I just don't pack it with me.

Lucas Fralick (06:05):

That's okay. You're still human. That's all right. I get it. I think we'll see the ratings go way up when we start talking about chess. People will be like, "Oh, wow. They see me. I feel seen," is what they'll say.

Chloe Flagg (06:21):

Oh, my gosh. And I'm sure there's a million other topics along those same lines that we could talk about and bring up. Wyoming's full of interesting people doing interesting things.

Lucas Fralick (06:33):

All the time.

Chloe Flagg (06:36):

I know that we can find them. But going back to your question, Emy, when I think about topics that I want to explore for the future, one that comes to mind for me is just our natural wonders. I know a lot of people think that talking about geology and geography of a place is not necessarily a humanities discipline, and a lot of the times it isn't. But I think when we can frame it in the human experience of how Wyoming Knights and native people throughout time have used this land and interacted with this land, I think that's where the humanities comes into play.

Lucas Fralick (07:16):

I completely agree. It's like that sense of awe, right?

Chloe Flagg (07:21):

Yes.

Lucas Fralick (07:22):

I feel like exploring the geographic wonders of Wyoming is in fact very much rooted in the humanities for that same reason. It inspires and it moves people.

Chloe Flagg (07:36):

Yeah, well, gosh, just think about Ernest Hemingway, came out to Wyoming and was inspired by the landscape.

Emy DiGrappa (07:45):

I like that you said that, Chloe, because when I thought about doing this podcast and thinking that it's like our new year podcast, what are we doing in 2023? And I'm really wanting to hear from our audience on themes and topics, people that they would want to learn and hear about. And so, the fact that you brought that up is really great. On that note, I want people, our listeners especially, to write in to emy@thinkwy.org, make some suggestions. We'd love to hear from you.

Chloe Flagg (08:22):

Thank you.

Lucas Fralick (08:23):

Thanks. Bye-bye.

Emy DiGrappa (08:27):

Happy 2023. Stay tuned to hear from two Wyoming natives, writer, Rod Miller. Rod was born into a ranching family that has been in Wyoming since 1867. He is a well known columnist for the Cowboy State Daily, and Michael Lange from Riverton, musician and executive director of the Wyoming Arts Council; two different and intriguing perspectives on life work and living change in Wyoming.

Rod Miller (08:58):

To tell you the truth, I can't recall verbatim that column, but if I was smart, I quoted Machiavelli and said that change is a constant and it's the steady state we live in. And Wyoming has been changing since day one and will continue to change long after we're gone and there's just nothing we can do about it. It's part of human DNA, it's part of nature, and we can't escape that fact just by living in Wyoming of course. And that that's true for all humanity.

(09:38):

No human likes change. We settle into a little, comfortable place in our lives and we don't want that to change, but at the same time, it's going to change whether we like it or not. Wyoming is a conservative state, and to me, the definition of conservative is not someone who is not opposed to change. It's not trying to resist change but accepts change incrementally as long as it's not disruptive. And that to me is the essence of conservatives, but we're powerless against that universal force. And stasis actually, when things don't change, they die and putrefy, decompose. So change is good.

(10:26):

But by the same token, just changing for change's sake I think is only accidentally constructive. It gets us out of a rut, but thrusts us into an unknown situation that we may not be able to control. And I'm going to tell you that regardless of what your notion of Wyoming identity is today or regardless of what my notion of Wyoming identity is today, that will change. It will not be the same in 20, 50, 100 years. So if we're talking like Wyoming identity snapshot at this point in time, I identify Wyoming as an energy colony for the rest of the country. And our collective identity is a state folds itself on that.

(11:15):

And we put all the bells and whistles on it like the cowboy way and code of the West and da, da, da, da, da, da and dress it up so it looks attractive, but in essence, Wyoming right now is an energy colony for the rest of the country, an energy colony where the quaint native dress is cowboy hat, cowboy boots and big belt buckles and stuff like that. And again, that's going to change in 20 years. So that's not going to change very quickly. We're not going to level the Tetons or fill in Flaming Gorge. The landscape is going to stay the same. The number of people in the state will probably change marginally over time as it has.

(11:59):

So yeah, that notion of a Wyoming identity as a landscape is pretty much immutable. That is not going to change very fast. But when you're talking about the landscape of humans in Wyoming and their ideas of what it means to live here, that will change. And there's a whole bunch of what has happened in Wyoming since, the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The railroad was a big thing. The workers that were working from the East on the Union Pacific line were primarily Irish and Eastern European immigrants. My great-grandfather was one of them.

(12:40):

The workers on the Central Pacific coming from the west coast to try and meet up a Promontory, those workers were huge, big populations of Chinese. In fact, the UP Railroad advertised in China for young men to come work on the railroad, to get their labor, to get the project done. UP Railroad was in the hands of white America. Vitus Barrack, who was a Danish explorer working for Czar Nicholas II, laid climb to the headwaters of Columbia River back in the late 18th century for the Czar of Russia, and that includes the Snake River and Jackson Lake.

(13:19):

So at one point, Russia claimed Jackson home, never did much with it. And the Native Americans who were here when Lewis and Clark got here were not the Native Americans who were here 200 years before that. Indigenous cultures were not all that reluctant to take land from their neighbors, other indigenous people. It's like human behavior 101, we want what our neighbor has and we go get it. So the diversity in this square state that we call Wyoming now is a result of 13,000 years of history of people occupying, being driven off this place.

(14:04):

And what we have today, again in that snapshot of human history in 2022 Wyoming is 600,000 people, mostly white, but a bunch of other ethnicities mixed in. This is what we have. I think part of how people consider the identity of Wyoming includes tribes, both Eastern Shoshone, northern Arapaho, as well as the other tribes that were here in Wyoming. We include as part of our self-identification that Native American heritage, not because we have deep understanding of history, but because we like the Native American culture and the imagery and tend to forget what we did to them.

(14:48):

That Indian culture is still part of how we think about Wyoming. We don't necessarily think about Wyoming in terms of the Chinese miners who are massacred in Rock Spring because of a mining strike. If there's one person responsible for keeping that at a high level in our consciousness, it's Al Simpson with the stories he's told over the decades about his friendship with Norm Mineta, that began at the Heart Mountain Interment Camp when they were Cub scouts. There's a way to do it, but you bump up against that conservatism, that reluctance to change that is part of Wyoming culture.

(15:26):

Going back to the priest statehood day, Wyoming was an open rain state. You just bought a bunch of cows somewhere and brought them out here and turned them looses and then gathered them up and sold. And that's how money was made in Wyoming for a decade probably. And then came the home setting acts and technological advances like barbed wire and windmills to pull up water out in dry areas and stuff like that. And folks resisted that because it was different than the way that grand-dad did it. So they were reluctant to try it.

(16:01):

But once that change was tried, it paved the way for other changes that diversified the livestock industry. And for decades, agriculture was the big economic driver in Wyoming. And that economic situation prevailed until the mid 1950s, I think it was 1954 or '55 when tourism, recreation, hunting, fishing brought more money into the state than agriculture did. And that was a major change, and that had been resistant over the years.

(16:35):

We've always been producing energy. But the big thing that happened in Wyoming was the Clean Air Act of 1970, and the Clean Air Act mandated that power plants not throw so much sulfur dioxide into air because it's creating acid grain and stuff like that. And President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act as part of a big bunch of environmental regulations after Earth Day. The Clean Air Act is the single most important event in bringing the Powder River Basin coal province into international province as an energy source. So that was a huge, big change and that brought about diversification of our economy.

(17:18):

And that's where we sit now, but the economic profile of Wyoming will change, like everything else in the state has changed and it will not be because of things we have done as Wyoming Knights. The economic life of Wyoming will change because of the marketplace. It's the marketplace that will determine our economic future. Well, two things. It's the marketplace and how we respond to that marketplace. On the topic of economic diversification in the state of Wyoming, I will say this, some of my friends are for it, some of my friends are against it.

Michael Lange (18:00):

I am from Wyoming originally. I was actually born in Lander, Wyoming and grew up in Riverton. My dad has this great story of a midnight, 15-minute trip from Riverton to the Lander on the old highway so that I was not born in the car on the way to the hospital. So grew up in Riverton and went to Northwest College in Powell. I went to the Community College there and studied music and really was a great experience for me. And then I transferred to the University of Wyoming following that where I ended up meeting my wife. I'd really just say I haven't really left yet. I still live in Laramie and I've been down here about 20 years now and work at the Wyoming Arts Council, where they have an office in Cheyenne where I commute over there quite a bit, but work from home as well. So I call Laramie my community.

(19:38):

I am lucky that as the executor director of the Wyoming Arts Council, I do travel this state quite a bit and get to meet with artists and non-profit arts organizations and we use this term, arts active organizations, organizations that their mission may not be related to the arts, but they use the arts to help meet their mission. I think a good example of this may be a Boys and Girls Club, where part of their co-curricular educational classes may be related to the arts and that helps grow the students that they work with.

(20:16):

I think in general, I would say the arts community in Wyoming is really strong. When you think about the number of artists and arts administrators that are working and living inside of the arts across Wyoming, it's a bunch. There's national data that's showing Wyoming in the performing arts is above the national average in the amount of performing arts activities that are happening inside of the state of Wyoming. And I think that gives a strong picture about the arts community.

(20:49):

But I think COVID has been really hard on the arts community, especially let's say inside of the performing arts. The performing arts were one of the first areas to be closed during COVID and one of the last areas to come back following the pandemic, and even as the pandemic continues. Now, there are definitely parts of the arts community that thrived inside of COVID. So the ability to find time and energy to set aside just to create is purely amazing. And we have heard from artists that were able to really use the pandemic as a time to create art, to really sit down and be focused on their creative output.

(21:38):

There were also artists we talked to that said, even though they had that time, just everything happening in the environment around them made that a complicated time. If you want to be creating art, if you feel like you have a passion and drive to be putting your creative out into your work, that's wonderful. And if you don't, that's wonderful too. That means that you are like everyone else. You have ups and downs and being okay with that is good.

(22:06):

I think it's really the way you tell a story about your culture and your identity is through your art, and sometimes that is absolutely completely related to what type of art you're creating. And sometimes, it's not related. It has to do with your background and your influences and what you bring to the table, where you grew up, who you know, what you listen to, and all of that is tied back in related to the environment that you're in. So I think the arts is probably one of the best ways for us to think about and talk about who we are as the state and who we'd like to be.

(22:48):

I had a really great experience as a kid living in Wyoming, which I know is not a story for everybody, but I had a good childhood in elementary school and middle school and really found my niche when I went to high school and was very involved with the band program at the Riverton High School. I was lucky to have a really great band director there, and I met a lot of really great friends and ended up knowing that that's what I wanted to do with my life, is be involved with music. Eventually, that turned into being involved with all of arts and culture.

(23:30):

First was definitely my dad who turned me on to music. And then when I got to high school, as I mentioned, I had a really great high school band director, a gentleman named John Amistad, who really pushed me and mentored me and he turned me on to a lot of great jazz music and I really fell in love with jazz music. I was also very fortunate enough to be in a community that had a strong music program at their Community College at Central Wyoming College. A gentleman named Kelly Dayner, who lived there and was the band director at the time, really turned me onto a lot of great music. And between some really good friends and those two mentors is how I got involved and engaged with the music and then started thinking about music in a broader context of what role does it play in society? How does it help strengthen communities?

(24:25):

I would first say that I think of music as part of the arts ecosystem. This could be across the performing arts, which of course includes music and includes dance and theater, across the literary arts, which includes writing across tons of different areas; it could be fiction and nonfiction and poetry, and the visual arts and all the different areas within the visual arts. I would also mention the folk in traditional arts that many times fall into those other three disciplines, but sometimes does not. So this idea of the creative output being in these areas of the arts.

(25:09):

I think one of the main things I think about is that the arts can really help us understand each other. The arts is a great entryway for people to have tough conversations. I would also say that the arts are in and of themselves an economic driver. We have somewhere around 11,500 artists that are full-time artists living and working in our state, if that be in administering arts programs or cultural programs or if it be in creating art and putting that art to the world. The arts help drive our economy in Wyoming.

(25:46):

I also think the arts are a great way for us to think about centering our community development and our economic development. At the core of what people are looking for and wanting to be involved in is a connection to place, is something to do, something to share with their families and with their friends and our ability to focus our community development around our arts and culture I think will help drive our communities and help drive our state in a really meaningful way.

(26:20):

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about how arts helps drive education. When you think about many of the main attributes and skills that people in the private sector, in the business sector are looking for inside of individuals that they're trying to hire, most of those are around creativity and individualism and the ability to make connections between different areas inside of business. And these are all skills that are inherent to studying the arts. So the arts in education really can help drive our economy and build a workforce across all different areas inside of the workforce, not just in the arts.

(27:07):

And lastly, it sounds corny, but I think there's a lot of truth to it. Arts build beautiful things. Arts adds beauty and grace to our communities. And in a time where we are so polarized and where the news cycle, the daily news cycle, is one horrific event after another horrific event, the ability to have beauty and grace inside of our communities, something that helps connect to our souls, something that puts a smile on our face, I don't think we talk about that enough and recognize how wonderful it is to be supporting efforts that bring beauty and grace to our communities.

(27:51):

What is unique about the artists across the state? When I'm at national conferences and I'm talking about Wyoming, it a lot of times has to do about the rural nature of the state, just how it is normal that you will drive six hours to attend an hour meeting and drive six hours back. The pure vastness of the state and the ability to really be alone with your own thoughts and alone with what you are thinking about and what you're hoping to do, that that is not always the case in a lot of urban areas.

(28:30):

I think having people come to Wyoming and experience that, experience the remoteness is really great. I think just like when anyone can learn about somebody else's culture, having people come to Wyoming and understand what that remoteness means, the ability to be alone, the ability to create inside of that atmosphere, but also what else it brings, that it takes 45 minutes to get to the grocery store and some of the livability issues that maybe you find in a large city do not exist in some remote areas of the state.

(29:08):

And I think true to most places in Wyoming, if you're a musician, the way you end up playing a lot and playing a lot of gigs is you hustle those gigs. You have to go find opportunity for places to play and people who may be interested in hearing your music. And I did a lot of that when I was at the University of Wyoming. I played with a handful of different jazz groups and really learned how to hustle for gigs. As I was finishing up my degree in music, I knew that music was always going to be a big part of my life, but being a working musician for the rest of my life was probably not my path. And I became very interested in arts administration and finished a degree in public administration, where I focus all of my efforts on understanding cultural policy and organizational structure and personnel management, which was a great learning experience for me.

(30:07):

When I think of the reason I stayed in Wyoming, I think a lot that goes into a person's personal identity. I definitely identify as a son, as a brother, as a husband, and a father to two wonderful little kids that I love having the ability to drop off at school and drive across town in five to 10 minutes and go see them in their local play or their local band concert or their local sporting event. I think many of the beautiful things about living in a rural space or a smaller space in Wyoming gives you the ability to be really connected with your family.

(30:54):

I also identify as a musician and specifically a bass player, and having the ability to work a job inside of a community where I can still be actively involved with the music scene is something that I find a lot of value and interest in. And being in a job where my day-to-day activity is to be a fierce advocate for the arts really ties in with all of these other pieces of my identity. And I feel like Wyoming has been a space where I have been able to be really engaged and involved with these activities. And I find a lot of personal value in that, with also being able to be an individual and be able to be part of my family, which I know can be a lot harder in different environments, in different locations across the country.

(31:51):

I think many people in Wyoming do not want change and are very interested in things staying as they have been for generations. That's complicated, especially with markets the way they are now and with the world energy portfolio changing. Yes, Wyoming will continue to have a boom and bust cycles, but the boom side of that cycle will probably be less and less over the next several decades. And without us thinking about how we can change our own environments, change our own economic vitality, I think it's going to be complicated to think about how we create a Wyoming where we want our kids to live and where we want our grandkids to also grow up and have many of the wonderful opportunities that I have.

(32:51):

I think we will be forced to change in one way or we will just continue to see less and less opportunities for our kids as we move forward. And as I talked about earlier, how the arts inside of education can really help students understand themselves, can really help students understand people who they have differing views with and really help build the 21st century workforce around bringing creativity and critical thinking to the table. I would, like many parents, love for my kids to be able to call Wyoming home, that they would have the ability to have opportunities inside of areas of their interest, to be able to feel at home inside of their community, like they have friends and opportunities and things to do.

(33:52):

I always say when people are looking to come to Wyoming, yes, workforce and having infrastructure, that is all a piece of the puzzle, but they also are bringing individuals. They're individuals coming to our state and saying, "What do you got here? What can I do? What can I be involved with?" And making sure we have those opportunities in our state is vital to the success and the future of Wyoming. We have to acknowledge that we have to invest in having a strong arts and cultural sector inside of our state. Just like we invest in infrastructure for businesses to have high speed internet and to be able to come in and build a workforce, we also have to recognize that having the cultural aspect inside of our community is just as important.

Emy DiGrappa (34:50):

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, our co-hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinkwy.org. Subscribe and never miss a show.