Perry’s annual two-day art festival, Art on the Prairie, has been bringing together poetry, music and handicrafts for 10 years, and the 11th festival will add a new ingredient: a storyteller in residence.
Iowa storyteller Erik Dominguez of Waukee was recently selected for an arts residency with Art on the Prairie as part of an Arts Midwest program called We the Many. The program funds residencies in rural areas in order to challenge and expand the idea of what it means to be a Midwesterner.
If you have ever shed a tender tear over a story you heard on the Moth Radio Hour or StoryCorps, then you know the power of narrative storytelling and the good fit Dominguez will make at the Nov. 14-15 Art on the Prairie event, which is “more than a festival in Perry” but “a rebirth of culture through the arts in a small town set on the prairie,” according to the Art on the Prairie website.
Born in Mexico, raised in Arizona, Dominguez is a public speaking coach and instructional designer at Speak Up Stories. He has taught in the Waukee school district and was a communications instructor at DMACC and Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona.
Dominguez founded Speak Up Stories in 2019 in order “to inspire, educate and coach individuals, teams and companies to cultivate a culture of powerful public speaking and storytelling,” according to the Speak Up Stories website.
As an immigrant who grew up between two cultures and heard mixed messages, Dominguez now shares the tools he fashioned to overcome those obstacles. His message is relevant to Perry’s Latinx residents, who make up more than 40% of the town’s population, and to Perry’s white people, who can celebrate the town’s diversity and resilience.
“I didn’t fit in,” Dominguez said in August 2019 at the Des Moines Storytellers Project. “I was not Mexican enough for the Mexicans, and I was not white enough to be white.” A summer speech and debate workshop helped him overcome his insecurities and speak “en los dos idiomas porque mientras se gana algo, se pierde nada,” to speak in both languages because while you gain something, you lose nothing.
The design of each We the Many storyteller in residency is unique to the community and will be guided in part by a cultural advisor identified by Arts Midwest and the participating communities. Activities may include in-person or virtual visits by the artists that invite and share personal stories.
We the Many is a project of Arts Midwest, with generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and in partnership with the Indiana Arts Commission, Iowa Arts Council and South Dakota Arts Council.
Arts Midwest is a non-profit regional arts organization headquartered in Minneapolis and serving audiences, arts organizations and artists across nine states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Arts Midwest provides significant financial and programmatic support to its We the Many community partners, including a $45,000 grant for residency planning and implementation, performing artist fees and related travel, lodging and per diem costs and advice for curatorial and cultural guidance in the selection of the artists.
The We the Many program aims “to expand the understanding of what it means to be a Midwesterner through the creative exchange of voices, cultures and ideas,” according to the We the Many website.
The program “works with communities to create performing arts residencies. In its pilot phase in 2020, the program will connect immigrant, refugee, Indigenous or African-American artists to three rural Midwestern communities. All residency activities are created in partnership with community members, seek to leverage existing assets and emphasize connecting to neighboring communities.”
Art on the Prairie is a nonprofit organization that brings together artists, entrepreneurs and community members through its arts programming. The Art on the Prairie Board of Directors is composed of President Jenny Eklund, Vice President and Co-Treasurer Mary Nichols, Co-Treasurer Sven Peterson, Secretary Colleen Eckhoff and Technical Director Lynsi Pasutti.