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Cultivating Art in Rural Communities

June 11, 2019

Creating art is something very human, and it happens across the world in places like Paris, Rome, New York City, and Fayette, Iowa. Thanks to a new program at Upper Iowa University, art is becoming a bigger part of life in Fayette County.

Art for a Lifetime was developed by Elissa Wenthe, Associate Professor of Art at Upper Iowa University, to bring community access to life-enhancing arts education for residents of Fayette County. The program is supported by a grant from the Fayette County Community Foundation, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa.

“I firmly believe that anyone can engage in the arts, and I find that individuals in northeast Iowa, they thrive, they want, they love the arts,” said Elissa. “They love painting, they love drawing, they love ceramics, they love doing all this and want the opportunities to express themselves.”

Art for a Lifetime is exactly what the name implies with programs spanning a wide spectrum of ages focusing on a high school arts camp, adult workshops on the Upper Iowa Campus, and bringing art to residents of senior living facilities. All programs bring college students together with community members.

“We have these young 18, 19, 20-year-old traditional college students working right alongside someone maybe in their 50s, 60s, or 70s making artwork. When you work in the studio, there’s a lot of dialogue that happens and conversations and life stories,” said Elissa. “It’s really fostering relationships, which is what communities do, and it’s what art communities do, and that’s what I’m finding great joy in.”

The grant from the Fayette County Community Foundation is helping with the promotion of the programs, materials for art activities, and scholarships for low-income high school students to attend the art camp.

“I’m excited to have these high schoolers, and they’re excited for a solid week of valid art making,” said Elissa. “We have students already signed up that would never be able to afford to go to a camp like this.”

According to Elissa, this program is fulfilling a need and curiosity for residents in her northeast Iowa communities. “There is a hunger for cultural enrichment and also for a way to express themselves.”

“What the grant did is validate my idea for this, and it validated that someone else thought this was an important endeavor. When I got the Community Foundation grant, I was so excited and all of a sudden it validated that, yes, we’re going to make this happen and we can do not just one part, but all three parts.”

Elissa Wenthe