Beth Remington’s office is a white 2002 Ford Econoline van. The steering wheel is her desk. The speedometer her computer.
As curator of the Ann Simpson Artmobile, Remington travels here, there and everywhere across Wyoming’s 97,818 square miles, transporting museum-quality artwork to schools, libraries, community and senior centers and other locations in the state’s 23 far-flung counties.
“I was in Casper last week, now I’m here, and next week I’ll be in Rawlins for three days,” Remington says as she shows off the Artmobile exhibition inside the library at Saratoga Elementary School. “Then, I’m going to four small towns near Cheyenne: Albin, Burns, Pine Bluffs and …”
She stops, and a quizzical expression covers her face as she racks her brain for the name of the fourth community. A few moments later, Remington’s eyes light up and she announces, “Carpenter!”
While Remington is helping schoolchildren in Laramie County to better understand and appreciate art, Larry Hensel will be leading another Opera in a Gym performance for youngsters in Goshen County, the Singing Statesmen will be practicing for their next statewide tour and patrons at the Carbon County Museum will be admiring pieces from the Touring Exhibition Service.
In the University of Wyoming’s quest to share the fine and performing arts across the Cowboy State, no road is too long, no community too distant.
“We have a great responsibility, especially as the only four-year university, to the communities and schools across Wyoming,” says Nicole Lamartine, conductor for the Singing Statesmen and Collegiate Chorale and faculty adviser for the Happy Jacks. “The state is so big, geographically, and I think that just makes it even more important for us to go out and put a human face to the University of Wyoming and its programs. There are so many people in Wyoming who wouldn’t have the opportunity to know what we’re all about unless we go out and show them.”
“We have a great responsibility, especially as the only four-year university, to the communities and schools across Wyoming. The state is so big, geographically, and I think that just makes it even more important for us to go out and put a human face to the University of Wyoming and its programs.” - Nicole Lamartine”
To enhance its long-standing commitment to cultural outreach, UW in 2010 unveiled its Fine Arts Bus, a 58-seat motor coach that eases travel for large performing groups while providing a safer touring experience for students and faculty. The bus, adorned with the school’s colors and graphic art, also helps raise the university’s visibility.
“The Fine Arts Bus is critical to the university, because we see our mission as being a statewide mission. And, in Wyoming, that means you travel,” says Katrina McGee, UW Foundation major gift officer for the fine arts.
The university’s border-to-border efforts don’t go unappreciated—particularly in the state’s more remote areas, where, sometimes, even a Wal-Mart is a half day’s drive.
To this day, Sarah Hale calls a January 2010 visit by the Singing Statesmen “the best PR in 15 years for UW” in the scenic Star Valley, which includes Afton, Thayne, Alpine and several other smaller communities. The editor of the local newspaper says she still hears people raving about the all-male choir.
The folks in Star Valley are waiting for an encore performance by the UW Symphony Orchestra, too. “We’ve had a few people ask when they’ll be back,” says Lisa Turner, executive director of the Star Valley Arts Council, which seeks opportunities to provide diverse cultural experiences to area residents.
“We look forward to having them as many times as they’ll come back.”
In Baggs, Linda Fleming says UW fills a tremendous void in a community that boasts one of the state’s most dominant prep football teams—the Rattlers have won consecutive Class 1A six-man championships—but little in the way of culture.
Located deep in Carbon County, scant miles from the Colorado border, Baggs has three times hosted the Touring Exhibition Service at the Little Snake River Valley Museum.
“The outreach program is invaluable to remote places in Wyoming—like us—that don’t have easy or immediate access to humanities and the arts,” says Fleming, a member of the museum’s district board.
“It’s appealing to exhibit first-class artwork for our museum patrons, because where else are they going to see it around here?”
The Artmobile’s recent visit to Saratoga meets a need, too. While Remington helps with a printmaking project at a nearby table—the children had already worked two days on a reliquary box—Sarah Lincoln watches with a smile.
“"He had tears in his eyes and said, ‘I just want to thank you for coming here, because my kid has never seen live theater or heard singing like that,’” Hensel says. “That was special.””
“Elementary art was cut in Saratoga four years ago, so this is a great opportunity for us to do something with the kids that they normally don’t get to do,” says Lincoln, who works at The Hub, a children’s community center that brought the Artmobile to town. “I don’t know if everybody knows that the university does as much as it does, but it’s just wonderful that they take such an interest in everybody around the state. We don’t have to go to them, they come to you.” The experiences are just as meaningful to UW faculty and students.
The Opera in a Gym program makes it a point to play in some of the state’s smallest venues. From Big Piney to Story, Dubois to Mills, Hensel has fond memories of each stop on the road. The troupe’s visit to a one-room schoolhouse with a gymnasium at Crowheart on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Fremont County especially sticks in his mind.
After performing for about 35 children—the school had just eight students but invited other surrounding schools to the show—Hensel was approached by a “big, tall, tough-looking guy.”
“He had tears in his eyes and said, ‘I just want to thank you for coming here, because my kid has never seen live theater or heard singing like that,’” Hensel says. “That was special.”
A junior music education major from Rawlins, Caleb Robinson will always
remember performing with the Singing
Statesmen in Hulett, a town of about 380 in the shadow of Devils Tower in
Crook County. “We peeked out from behind the
curtain, and there were almost more of us than them,” he says with a laugh. “But they were just so excited to have us in their town. There were 300, 400 people at other places on that tour, but those few people in Hulett supported us more than any other place we went that year.”
Of all places on Interstate 80, the refinery town of Sinclair is one of Artmobile curator Remington’s favorite stops. “I’ve been there so many times that when the kids see the van, they scream, ‘The Artmobile lady is here!’” She smiles and says, “That just makes you feel good about what you’re doing.”
As Remington applies blue paint to finish the children’s printmaking project at The Hub, Bel Oiler proudly shows her reliquary, which she wrapped in purple ribbon and garnered with jewels and feathers. “It’s so fun to be creative,” the fifth-grader with long blonde hair and glasses says.
Third-grader Ashley Hartman says she also chose jewels "because I'm really a jewelry girl." Hartman's friend, Nikkie Bauer, a second-grader, used seashells on the inside of her box because "they look pretty and I'm a girly-girl."
After their friend, Annie Nicens, another second-grader, shows her tiger-themed reliquary, Hartman glances toward Remington and a smile comes across her freckled face.
“I’m glad she came here,” the girl says. “We do science at school but not art. This is fun!”