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Sailing Our Own Odyssey, through the Arts

[imgbelt img=pember-odyssey-splash530.jpg]Double Edge Theater’s staging of The Odyssey in Western Massachusetts inspires rural leaders to dream big and, in the spirit of Native peoples, bring art’s magic back home.

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Double Edge Theater. The experience was a personal homecoming to my childhood creative mind and a reinforcement of art’s importance in my life and and everyone’s.

I was in Northwestern Massachusetts to attend a conference about the importance of arts and culture in rural America. When I was informed that we would also be attending the Double Edge Theater’s production of The Odyssey, I gotta admit I had some trouble seeing how Greek mythology fit in with expanding the awareness and support of art and culture in rural areas. Soon, however, I saw the genius of combining the two, especially for American Indians, a drama for the way we view our relationship with art, culture and the world.

In doing some brief research about Homer, I find that many scholars think his original poem was created in an oral tradition, intended to be performed and heard rather than read. Like the ancient poet, Native folks approach art and culture as something to be lived, an experiential process inseparable from life. 

Art of the Rural and the Center for Rural Strategies is hosting a Rural Arts and Culture Convening at the Farm. Over 35 cultural organizers, practitioners, and advocates will meet to formalize an organized effort that promotes our shared belief in the transformative power of the arts in our culture. We hope to emerge from this gathering with the basic framework for a movement that spans the country that resonates across cultures, disciplines, and experiences and informs policy.

Art of the Rural reports, “This represents a sad confluence of forces, of Culture Wars bullet points that impose a political rhetoric on art making itself (liberal, Blue State) and ignore, on the most basic level, the role nationally-funded arts have played in American Democracy, and even in ‘family values.’ Further, this ignores the overwhelming data suggesting how — beyond the intangible benefits of artmaking — such creative collaborations can transform local economies. “

about First Peoples Fund, a non-profit organization supporting and honoring Native artists. Executive director, Lori Pourier of the Ogala Lakota tribe said, “The embodiment of these practices (art, culture and spirituality) can make us whole again as nations. These are the things that truly sustain us.”

The sustaining element of creativity in my life was embodied by the tale of Odysseus and his journey home. I was reminded how Homer’s epic spurred my dream and drawings and ignited my great secret goal of becoming a writer.

The wild acrobatic doings and immersive stage settings of Double Edge’s Odyssey nearly rivaled my childhood imaginings of Odysseus’ travels. My inner child squealed to see the Cyclops perched in a tree, bathed in lurid light while devouring Odysseus’ men.

As I walked the grounds of the Theater on that summer evening, I was reminded of how essential wild, unbounded creativity and art are to our lives.

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