Wyoming’s Common Ground

Today I am in New Orleans for the National Humanities Conference. It is the annual opportunity for all 55 state and territorial humanities councils, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Federal/State Partnership to come together alongside the National Humanities Alliance, a coalition of organizations dedicated to advancing humanities education, research, preservation, and public programs. Wyoming has a great contingency, over a dozen, attending this conference including board and staff of our organization and faculty from UW. We will have the opportunity to network with all 50 states (and 5 territorial jurisdictions) to learn from each other and find common themes and issues we can all explore together through the humanities.

I write this the day after the mid-term election. It is clear that America is facing a great challenge. We all know that there are many great divides that seem to separate and categorize Americans that go beyond political parties. State humanities councils are in a unique position to enable their states and the nation to find common ground and explore these issues through the tools of the humanities disciplines. What I think may be the most relevant and concerning issue that this election has clearly exposed is the growing rural/urban divide. I am proud to share with you that Wyoming Humanities will be helping our state take a very deep dive into this topic over the coming two years, including a year-long tour of the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibit called “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.”

My five years in this position have shown me that Wyomingites are eager to find common ground with each other and with their fellow Americans. Just two weeks ago we hosted the “High Noon in America” tour where we showed a film featuring four Wyomingites—two Democrats and two Republicans—sitting across the table from each other and demonstrating ways to find common understanding about controversial topics. Folks in Jackson, Moorcroft, and Cheyenne came out to see the film and discuss the political divide. One common strand of conversation in all the communities was that they wanted to know what the other communities thought and “how can we reach out to them?” Wyomingites want to find what unites us, not what divides us. It was a very empowering and exciting tour, and we will keep this important conversation going for the whole state.

Indeed, we realized on this tour that because our towns are small, nearly everyone is involved with their community and that makes it easier to find common ground. We tend to have higher-than-national rates of voters in elections and many of you volunteer your time with local organizations and doing the things that make an engaged community: going to a local sports game; taking part in a book club; viewing an exhibit at your local museum or gallery; attending a play. These activities bring people and towns together to interact, talk, explore ideas, learn from each other, and have fun. These are the very same actions Wyoming Humanities encourages with our programs and grants. We bring Wyomingites together to better understand ourselves and the narratives that shape our state. Through this understanding, Wyoming can make informed decisions about our future.

Our work creates strong active communities and a statewide bond at a time when Wyoming has many challenges to face. Wyoming Humanities is deeply grateful to all of you who help us to create, fund, and put on these events. Beginning next week, we will launch 15 Days of Wyoming Gratitude to share with the whole state how our tight network comes together to take a closer look at the human experience. I hope you will follow this fun online campaign to learn more about the cultural infrastructure of Wyoming and how we band together.

If you are on Facebook, you can follow our 15 Days of Gratitude to Wyoming on our page at https://www.facebook.com/thinkwy/. You can also follow along by checking out our gratitude page on our website at www.thinkwy.org/15Days. We’ll send occasional updates via email, along with our thanks to you when it’s YOUR turn!