Satanta Arts Council
by Rachel Coleman
Across Kansas, arts lovers winced as the news that budget tightening would do away with the Kansas Arts Commission. Yet the news was met with unusual calm in Satanta, where the town's arts council views trouble as something people should aim to overcome.
"We're going to keep on with it," said Satanta Arts Council chairman Ryan Burrows. "We've been thinking about this for a couple years now. We haven't had to ask corporations for support in the past, but we know we might have to take that approach now. In fact, Black Hills Energy has already given us help, which has been so encouraging. Whatever it takes, we're going to survive."
That might sound like groundless optimism — until the listener considers the facts. In this town of just more than 1,000, the Satanta Arts Council has flourished, bringing monthly cultural activities to students and residents for 35 years. While the student body population at USD 507 might hover around 400, those elementary, junior-high and high school students enjoy many of the same cultural opportunities available to their urban peers hundreds of miles away.
During the 15 years she's been involved, said board member Dena Whisler, "we have done a little bit of everything — laser shows, the Wichita Children's Theater, plays for all ages, musicals, instrumental concerts, blues and jazz — a variety of things." A recent highlight was an orchestral concert in December, featuring excerpts from Handel's Messiah and other holiday classics, performed by area string players and vocalists.
Though some might view the list as high-falutin' stuff for a farm-and-ranch community, the Arts Commission folks see it as a necessary part of life.
"It's always been my viewpoint that you need the arts to have creativity and imagination. There's life in that," said Burrows. "When we raise children just to work, if we educate them only prepping for state assessments, we are kind of cutting them off from this other part of life that includes imagination and joy. You end up with a cookie-cutter society."
Whisler said the same holds true for adults in Satanta. The traditional "Spirit of Christmas" concert is one example: "Everybody needs just a little break to get away from the stress of the holidays and be reminded what it's all about. It's just always been a fun and relaxing thing to bring in top-quality musicians. After the show you can go back to doing whatever else you've got to do that day."
As the year warms, wheat harvest wraps up and summer wanes, Burrows said, Jammin' in the Gazebo offers another opportunity for Satanta residents to relax and take a deep breath.
"Area acoustic musicians come from all over to play outside in the park," he said. "People bring their lawn chairs, visit, talk, and sometimes it goes on until midnight."
Burrows, who grew up in the neighboring small town of Rolla, savors the combination of small-town atmosphere and artsy collaboration.
"Where I grew up, we didn't have anything like this," he said. "But I just had such good teachers in Rolla, when I graduated from Fort Hays State University, that was the kind of teacher I was going to be. I guess my heart's just here." After Burrows took a group of high school English students to a Shakespeare play in Denver, "the arts council folks thought I should join in," he said.
A decade later, Burrows has advanced to the chairman spot and taken the lead in combining arts council ventures with the town's education infrastructure.
"We have supplied things to elementary school students, so they grow up expecting that arts will be part of their life," he said. "The Wichita Children's Theater has come out several times, and one of the cool things we provided was an acting workshop for the kids. We'd done it in the forensics class, but then we put some of our more vulnerable students — some of our junior high boys who have this tough guy act — into an improv class. It was pretty cool to see the ones you don't expect to do well, just take off."
Taking a cue from the "Kids College" events sponsored by area community colleges, the Satanta Arts Council started its own summer workshop program. The class list includes Spanish, yoga, a variety of visual arts classes, cooking, home economics, even a science class — "pretty much anything we can imagine," Burrows said. Though some offerings are surprising, it's all in the service of creativity, Burrows said, "which is central. Being able to express yourself is necessary in any job. Thinking outside the box is part of being an entrepreneur. You don't learn that from filling in ovals on standardized tests."
As a community, Satanta is similarly self-directed, Burrows said.
"We've really been impressed by the level of involvement. We have so many people willing to become $100 yearly members, we're kind of self-sustaining at this point. That's a good thing because most of the grant money is drying up, and we've known that for about two years. We kind of consider ourselves the last bastion."
Satanta Arts Council has taken cost-cutting measures in order to make the most of the locally-generated support money.
"We've had to shop around a little more. We're trying out performers who are closer to home — a theater group from Fort Hays, people who've grown up in Satanta and are willing to come back for a performance," Burrows said. A future option might be the son of board member Dena Whisler, who is at college studying to become a conductor.
"I think his life would have been different if he hadn't had the arts opportunities in Satanta, including band at the school," Burrows noted. "That's just one small bit of proof that we're doing something valuable here."
The Satanta Arts Council is a non-profit, volunteer-staffed organization. Visit the group's page on Facebook or check out the website, www.satantaartscouncil.com.
Upcoming Events in Satanta:
May 2011 - Satanta Day
June 2011- Members Only - Passing Fancy, vaudeville show
July 11- July 15, 2011 - Kid's College
August 2011 - Jammin' At The Gazebo
Sept/Oct 2011- Fall Dinner Theatre
October 2011 - Celebrate Kansas Photography Contest
November 2011 - Wichita Children's Theatre
December 2011 - Spirit of Christmas