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Immigrant Artists Giving Back to the Communiity

I’m Randy Stewart for KSMU, with the second half of our Sense of Community report on immigrant artists in the Ozarks. This morning we discussed the fact that, while there are active and successful foreign-born artists and musicians in the area, there aren’t all that many. And that results in a certain lack of diversity in the local arts scene, according to Sandra Smith, Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council.SANDRA CH SMITH: The big difference I notice, living in Springfield, is we don’t have a large foreign population. I lived in Philadelphia for 20-some years, and so I was used to moving in all kinds of circles of--you know, not just white artists, so to speak! And it was very exciting. And so, sometimes it feels a little… not “stilted” here, but it needs some spice in the pot. It needs some spice.RANDY: Helping provide that “spice” locally for some 30 years has been Taiwanese artist Hing Wah Hatch, who came to Springfield in the 1970s as the wife of Missouri State University art professor Jerry Hatch. Ask either of them, and they’ll tell you there’s plenty of diversity in the art department here at MSU.HING WAH HATCH: In the art department here it’s very multi-cultural, international. We have Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Polish, Yugoslavian, British….RANDY: But a university faculty is different from the public at large--more hermetic, more insulated perhaps. You come here specifically because there’s a faculty job waiting for you. Is it more difficult to simply immigrate to this country and try to establish yourself, and make a living, as an artist?HING WAH HATCH: I’d say so, in certain situations. I have a friend who I made here in Springfield--she lived here for a few years. She was actually a very well-known pop singer in Hong Kong and southeast Asia. She tried to establish herself here, but nobody knows her. Finally she had to go back to Hong Kong. And she is still very well known there.RANDY: Still, Hing Wah Hatch remains sanguine about the possibilities of a foreign immigrant making it as an artist and practicing their craft here.HING WAH HATCH: Nowadays I don’t think there’s any problem, if you have the skill and you have the merit.RANDY: But the story Hing Wah tells of the pop singer is a familiar one, says Yolanda Lorge of the local Hispanic support organization Grupo Latino-Americano, which presents numerous multi-cultural arts and performance events in the area.YOLANDA LORGE: We’re basically just representing our culture through the arts. We have a choir, we have a dance group, but we are not “professionals!” And that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t know of any “professionals.” They might be here, but they are not active in the arts community yet. When I’ve asked some people that I know they have danced in their country of origin, “Can you join our group? Of course, we don’t pay you or anything like that….” And of course they say “No! I didn’t come here to dance, you know? I have to work! I have to make a living, I have to support my family or send money to my relatives,” or whatever. I mean, if you came here because you wanted to pursue your artistic talents and career, then you don’t come to Springfield, okay? You go to New York, you don’t come to Springfield, because economically it’s just not feasible.RANDY: Once an immigrant has established him or herself in this area--maybe applies for citizenship--then maybe they can think about indulging their “artistic muse,” says Yolanda Lorge. But that can take years.YOLANDA LORGE: And are you gonna be just sitting down and painting? No! They’re going to deport you before you make any money! (laughs)RANDY: But the Springfield Symphony’s Ron Spigelman adds this:RON SPIGELMAN: When people from overseas think, “I’m coming to America,” they think “big city.” Which is interesting, because a great artist in New York City might get noticed… a great artist in Springfield, Missouri WILL get noticed, you know, because it’s just a smaller pond, and that’s the way it goes!RANDY: Hing Wah Hatch maintains that making art is a great way to give back to the community--and it’s good for the person actually making the art.HING WAH HATCH: You should think about giving some of the best that you know from your culture--RANDY: Back to the community.HING WAH HATCH: Yes. Art is a relaxing activity. And why not take some time to do it, instead of putting all your mind into making money? Making money is very, very important--I realize that. But art is also good for the soul, good even for a person’s health!RANDY: Sandra Smith from the Arts Council:SANDRA CH SMITH: If they’re waiting for their papers to be legalized, maybe art would be a good pastime! That’s one thing wonderful about the art world, Randy: there’s always room for everyone. We have lots of workshops here, we give scholarships when appropriate. So if there are any Hispanic or other nationalities out there that are interested in getting involved in the arts, we’d love to hear from them.RANDY: You can call the Springfield Regional Arts Council at 862-ARTS (2787).