Finding 'common ground' on the hill Carroll County: Week-long festival in Westminster uses art to send universal message.

July 03, 1996

SUNDAY MARKS the return of "Common Ground on the Hill," a week-long festival at Western Maryland College which emphasizes the multi-cultural unity of creation.

Or as festival founder and WMC alumnus Walt Michael put it, "Arts are the window. 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."

"Traditions: Native American, Black & White" is the theme of this year's event. Programs range from African and Yiddish dancing to Native American storytelling and basket-weaving.

"People tend to think in terms of black and white," says Rosemary Maxey, who teaches religious studies at the college in Westminster, "but there are separate shades in between."

Racial polarization has dominated headlines recently, from church burnings through the South to Ku Klux Klan activity closer to home. "Common Ground" serves to remind us that it is important to build bridges as a community, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds.

The past few decades have seen wide acceptance and TC appreciation of different ethnic art expressions. Most important, they are becoming increasingly recognized as art, not "hyphenated" art.

In a way, next week's event is an adaptation of the "teach-ins" of the peace movement of the Vietnam War era, whose activists included Walt Michael. The series also continues the traditions of the 18th century lyceum and Chautauqua movements, which provided adult education through lectures, concerts, community discussions and fellowship.

"Each new generation needs to be taught the values that came to the fore in that era. A lot have gotten the message, but don't know what to do with it," said Mr. Michael, who is also a leader in the revival of the hammered dulcimer, a string instrument.

He founded Common Ground last year as a nonprofit arts and music center to sponsor concerts and workshops on music, dance, visual arts and other disciplines.

Today's problems and challenges can seem so foreboding as to dampen human spirit. A series such as this goes a long way toward renewing optimism.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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