On March 27, 2017, a cup of coffee in Russell (birthplace of Bob Dole) led me to an afternoon in Lucas. That was the day that I, a lifelong West Coaster on my first ever visit to the Midwest, fell in love with the great state of Kansas.
I woke up that morning in Wilson, KS, home of the World's Largest Czech Egg.
From Wilson I headed west to Russell, on a pilgrimage to Senator Dole's hometown. After taking a few pictures outside his childhood home, I gave in to my craving for a fancy coffee, and stopped at Espresso, Etc., in downtown Russell. Shelby, the barista, and Jim, the other customer, were adamant that I should go to Lucas, KS, to see the toilet. No way was I going to argue with either one of them, so I headed north and arrived in Lucas in an hour. Jim said that I should check out the Grassroots Art Center, which displays the works of quite a few local artists. The staff and volunteers were having a meeting when I arrived. Rosslyn, the woman who runs the center, said that she'd gladly give me a tour after the meeting. She pointed me towards the toilet. And man alive, what a toilet it was.
When I got back to Grassroots Art Center, after my best bathroom visit ever, I was warmly greeted by Rosslyn. Before the tour got started, she asked me, "Are you an artist?" I automatically said no, and added that I do some writing. There were half a dozen of us in the group, and Rosslyn started us in a side room to look at examples of art created by Kansans. She talked about the artists, who were all regular folks who used their creativity to beautify their homes and yards.
During the tour I realized that, yes, I am an artist. I didn't start thinking of myself as creative until my first Storycenter digital storytelling workshop, almost exactly eight years ago. So I took back the answer I'd given Rosslyn a few hours earlier. I told her that I am an artist, and the art I make is folk art for the 21st century (a description I've always loved, but hadn't completely understood until that spring afternoon). As I started to describe digital storytelling, I realized how much I have in common with the Kansans whose art I was admiring. One of the things I love about digital storytelling is that you don't need a lot of technical experience to create a digital story - you need a story to tell and some visuals to help you tell it. The regular folks in Lucas, and really everywhere, don't need special art education to make what they have around them into something beautiful - they need raw materials and the creativity to put them together in ways that they find appealing. Same idea, different century.
Next summer I want to bring digital storytelling to the folks in Lucas, Kansas. To help the artists tell their own stories, in their own voices, so that Grassroots Art Center can introduce them to future folks who come to town for the toilet