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Ozarks Lacking Foreign-Born Artists?

Ever have one of those projects at work where you start out with a specific goal in mind, expecting the project to proceed in a certain direction... only to have it evolve into something rather DIFFERENT? That's what happened to me when I began working on today's KSMU "Sense of Community" report. With the immigrant population of the Ozarks continually achieving more prominence and visibility, I initially figured on producing a fairly straightforward report on immigrants and their impact on the local arts community. But as soon as I started talking to local people in the arts, it quickly turned into something of a DEBATE about whether there is enough active participation by foreign-born residents of the area in the arts--and if not, why not?It’s not even that the Ozarks region lacks foreign-born artists and musicians--just look at the faculty of Missouri State University’s Music Department and Art and Design Department! Two of the more prominent foreign-born artists in the area are the Springfield Symphony’s Music Director, Ron Spigelman; and visual artist and instructor Hing Wah Hatch. Spigelman and his wife Lisa are both from Australia, and both are still green-card holders. Ron has lived and worked in the United States for many years, having held conducting posts in Fort Worth and Buffalo, NY before coming to Springfield five years ago. RON SPIGELMAN: Actually, I haven’t become a citizen yet--that’s the next step. I am a green-card holder as well as my wife. And my two sons are both Americans--they were born, one in Fort Worth, one in Buffalo. So we feel very connected here. I think for somebody who is looking to establish themselves as an artist, I think this is a great community to come, because it’s not expensive to live here, compared to LA, NY, Chicago, Dallas and the like. And there seems to be a growing support network for artists here, thanks to the Arts Council, the Creamery Arts Center, and of course you have the 1st Friday Art Walk.RANDY: Two things have definitely helped Spigelman establish himself in this country: he’s a native English-speaker, for one thing; for another, his profession. Good symphonic conductors aren’t exactly thick on the ground--and they basically get invited to where the jobs are.RON SPIGELMAN: When you come to the United States as a conductor, you work on contracts, you move around. It’s just the nature of the business.RANDY: Hing Wah Hatch’s story is different. Born in Taiwan and a resident of Hong Kong as a child, she came to the United States in 1970 to pursue an art degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But it was her marriage to MSU Art and Design professor Jerry Hatch that brought her to Springfield a few years later. When it came to seriously pursuing her art, Hing Wah says there were barriers at first.HING WAH HATCH: At first when I came here I was really lost. And since he has a job and I don’t, I actually tried to find some jobs in a restaurant--and I actually worked in the kitchen at Bamboo Inn for a while! And then later on, I do my artwork a lot--I have the time. And I established myself as an artist in the community in the ‘70s, ‘80s. And I produced quite a bit of artwork, entered lots of shows, and never had any problem. I met very many nice people, very open-minded people, so….RANDY: Do you think it helped that Jerry was already established in a university position?HING WAH HATCH: Yes, it does--it does.RANDY: The truth is, not everyone who immigrates to the Ozarks from abroad has those sorts of advantages, says Yolanda Lorge of the local Latin-American support organization Grupo Latino-Americano.YOLANDA LORGE: You don’t have the connections as an immigrant. You don’t know anybody: “Where do I go? Who do I talk to?” That’s an added problem or barrier for a “foreign”--let’s call it a “foreign” artist. You gotta have a day job! And so, if you’re an immigrant, you came here to better yourself economically… most of them; unless you came from Cuba, then you came for political reasons. But most of them came here for economic reasons. That’s why we have the expression “starving artist”--you know, you didn’t come to this country to starve, okay? You can starve in your own country if you’re an artist! So it doesn’t make sense.RANDY: That may be one reason why it appears that there are not that many active foreign-born artists in the Ozarks, especially Latinos. I’ll leave the last word this morning to Sandra Smith, Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council. When asked if there is too little diversity in the local arts community, Sandra just says point-blank:SANDRA CH SMITH: Yeah, that’s been my experience. And I just hope that we could encourage more art by people from other countries, because it adds spice and flavor to our own art world.