For over 11 years, students at John Brown University have had the opportunity to engage with artists at the annual Giving Voice festival held each September. This year, however, Giving Voice coordinators Traci Manos, Rebecca Kelly and Jessica Hooten-Wilson focus on community engagement.
“We partnered with the local library and formed book clubs for upper elementary, middle school and high-school aged students,” Kelly said. “We familiarized them with the upcoming artists we were hosting this year. We had a great turnout.”
Other festival events connected not only community members, but faculty, staff and students as well.
“The thing I like most is that when people get the chance to meet these authors one-on-one and familiarize themselves with their works, it connects to something deep within them,” Kelly said.
This year’s Giving Voice artists were creative non- ction writer Lisa Ohlen Harris, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang and spoken word poet David Bowden.
“I loved the Giving Voice speakers because I think they were so diverse and each of them offered a different stance to writing and just the arts in general,” junior English Education major Tracie Sweetin said. “They’re all very personable people and wanted to be here and wanted to be involved in the community.”
This year’s festival began with a reading at the Siloam Springs Public Library by Lisa Ohlen Harris.
“Fortunately, the nice thing about writing non- ction and reading non- ction is that it’s your life,” Harris said. “Sure, I can read what I wrote and that’s interesting but I can also just tell people about my life and I really enjoy doing that when I attend a reading.”
Yang and Bowden continued the festival during a chapel service on Thursday morning, followed by a panel luncheon for English majors with all three artists. Students were then invited to participate in master workshops led by the artists.
“It seems like it was a really signi cant time,” Harris said. “And, I loved hearing what a graphic artist, a performing artist, and a prose writer would have to say about the same things. Our panel discussion felt like a braid. Like the students were asking the questions and grabbing a strand and then another one of us would answer and strands would cross over and it forms this lovely braid of discussion.”
Overthreehundred community members, faculty, staff, and students attended Thursday night’s performance by Yang and Bowden and participated in the contests and activities leading up to the event.
“They were incredibly excited to be able to meet and get books signed by these authors, people they were familiar with,” Kelly said. “I just feel like the entire community, I’m talking elementary people all the way up to people in their sixties and seventies, had something to take away and had an element that they thoroughly enjoyed this year.”
Friday morning, over 200 high school students and teachers arrived on campus to attend workshops led by JBU faculty, Harris and local artists, according to Kelly.
“All the high schoolers seemed to enjoy being there [at the workshops] and it was just nice to see our campus lled with people and events other than JBU students and for JBU students,” Sweetin said. “I thought that was important to reach out to the community.”
Kelly hopes with next year’s Giving Voice line- up, yet to be released, community engagement with the event will only increase.
“Giving Voice is about giving voice to people of all ages because everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has something to share with the world around them through some sort of artistic means,” Kelly said. “And, I love that our festival inspires people to pursue that: those God-given gifts.”