By Olivia Nieto

The term ‘art’ is a word used to encompass a wide range of activities, but can often fail to convey the power it has on people’s lives. However, on January 30th the NEA (National Endowment of the Arts) partnered with the White House Domestic Policy Council to host a Healing, Bridging, and Thriving Summit on Arts and Culture in Communities. 

This event spanned throughout the entire day, with over 30 total speakers from all over the country. The Sisters-based Roundhouse Foundation was one of the organizations invited and acknowledged for their significant work in supporting communities all over Oregon.

“To be invited to the Summit was an incredible honor. I am still in disbelief that Roundhouse Foundation was asked to participate in this project alongside larger organizations that fund across a larger footprint. To be included, and encouraged to bring representatives of organizations that we work with – so they could experience this event – was a real honor,” states Executive Director of The Roundhouse Foundation Erin Borla.

With speakers like the Second Gentleman of the United States, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, and Academy Award Winning actor Troy Kotsur; this conference was a historical mesh of dozens of unique minds, ideas, and stories. 

The U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy succinctly described the goal of the summit saying, “Joy is good for your health, and art brings people joy…healing is not something that happens solely in hospitals, it’s something we have the power to create.”

The conversation of how art physically and mentally heals society extended to the process of taking steps that will lead to viable actions. This included NEA’s partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water in launching an artist-in-residence program. Each of the artists is receiving $200,000 to support their craft and advocate water restoration and climate resilience in Boston, Seattle, New Mexico, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, and New York.

“This is a model for other federal and state agencies to adapt, that will help to see a better connection between federal resources and the realities, priorities, and interests of communities,” states Senior Deputy Chair of the NEA Ascala Tsegaye Sisk.

Outside of the summit, the Roundhouse Foundation delegates also had the honor of talking with the Department of Interior, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and multiple Oregon representatives about issues facing rural citizens that needed to be addressed.

“I was grateful to be able to spend time with the leaders of many of the cultural organizations that do such great work in Oregon. Deepening the connection with our partners was very important to me…  I also felt it was empowering for each of our partners to voice their opinions on a national scale, I hope they felt heard,” states Founder and Trustee of the Roundhouse Foundation Kathy Deggendorfer.

The chance for typically unheard voices to arise in such a major way was one of the main goals of this trip. The Roundhouse achieved this by bringing twenty-five different indigenous, rural, and culture-bearing individuals from all over Oregon together. In a society where non-urban perspectives aren’t always heard, this trip served as an example of the work being done in opposition to that culture. All the attendees had the chance to talk about their programs and the needs of the underrepresented percentage of Oregon’s population. 

“I walked away feeling like the current administration truly values art and its role in a healthy society, to the point that the Surgeon General gave a beautiful speech about the power of art to connect people and help with feelings of social isolation. I left with a renewed commitment to the work SFF Presents does in the Central Oregon community,” states Crista Munro, Executive Director of SFF Presents.

“Rural voices aren’t heard, which usually means indigenous voices aren’t either…But it made me happy when a bunch of Native Ladies came up to me because I was wearing my ribbon skirt…I felt a sense of pride in sharing the same space and power,” adds Mersaedy Atkins, ‘Tyusmakt’, an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation Reservation in Washington.

This growing recognition of art and rural voices in our modern society brought this summit to life and allowed new conversations to be held. Every participant walked away with new outlooks on how to bring healing, joy, and creativity to their communities.

As Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Shelly Lowe said, “Art, in all its forms, brings humanities teachings to all of us.”

Olivia Nieto is a student at Sisters High School. She recently became a freelance writer and has been composing articles for the local Nugget Newspaper. Olivia enjoys playing saxophone in High School band, and running Cross Country.

Published On: February 24th, 2024 / Categories: Featured Grant Stories, Foundation Highlights, Grant News /