Arts festival seeks blend of all colors Celebration: Racial understanding is the theme of a gathering next week at Western Maryland College.

June 24, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Dancers, drummers, fiddlers and singers will focus on talent and ignore the shades of difference at an arts and music festival at Western Maryland College next month.

Their aim is to make students racially colorblind.

"Artists are a different kettle of fish," said Alice McGill, an actress and storyteller. "They don't usually care about color. They only care about the art of the person. The concept will be beneficial to folks not used to that atmosphere."

McGill and about 50 other artists are gathering at Common Ground on the Hill, an annual festival that opens July 7 and runs through the 13th at the Westminster college.

Festival founder Walt Michael has chosen "Traditions: Native American, Black & White" for his 1996 theme.

"Arts are the window," said Michael, a recording artist and performer credited with reviving the hammered dulcimer. "We have to reach out and get the shades to go up, so we are really communicating. People will see that music breaks down the barriers. You will see what you can do if you decide to get along and share each other's traditions."

In exploring cultural diversity, participants will discover common ground and bridge the differences among ethnic, gender, age and racial groups, he said.

Given the recent spree of church burnings in the South, this effort to build common ground is "topical and pertinent," Michael said.

"Obviously we are not rebuilding churches or doing anything in the physical realm," he said. "But we are hoping to get at the root of the problem, trying to bring black and white together. Here, there is a real desire to get along, to do the right thing. And people are coming together to take part."

Instructors are offering music lessons and discourses on a myriad of subjects from breathing to philosophy. Students can write a song or a story, learn to play mandolin and dulcimer, weave a basket and create art from paper.

Then, there is McGill's class.

"I'll be telling lies," said McGill. "In the North, they were called tall tales, but in the South, anything not true is a lie."

Actually, she will be telling spellbinding yarns and tracing the roots of the blues through her stories.

While the emphasis this year is on local talent, several artists will add a splash of international flavor. A dance troupe from Baltimore, for instance, is offering lessons from Africa.

The founders of Sankofa, which means "reaching back to move forward," believe studies of the African culture will open doors and build self-esteem.

Sakim, a tribal king and medicine man in the Apalachicola-Creek nation, will be telling stories, too, and demonstrating Native American ceremonies.

Mary Johns, a Seminole tradition bearer, will be transporting a truckload of sweet grass from her home near Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Her students will weave the grass into baskets, a craft Johns mastered in childhood under the watchful gaze of her mother and grandmother.

"By their very presence, Sakim and Mary Johns are providing an opportunity to hear about their heritage," said Rosemary Maxey, a religious studies teacher at Western Maryland College. "People tend to think in terms of black and white, but there are separate shades in between."

Common Ground students can enroll in the entire program or a single course; commute to class or stay on campus. Michael promises constant interchange between teachers and students. Children also can participate in a world village program.

In the evenings, concerts and dance will celebrate the commonality of cultures.

"Artists know understanding is the key," McGill said. "It is not important to identify by skin color or national origin. It is the art we look at."

Michael is urging all to "come and be a part on whatever level they want. Common Ground has become therapy, a place to be involved, a place of immediate, interpersonal rewards."

He would like to double the 122 students who came to Common Ground last year.

"This is not another bleeding- heart thing," he said. "It is real, with African-American and Native American participation and direction. The result is one-on-one. If you don't know where to go with wanting things to be right, here is your chance to work."

Information: 857-2771.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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