Our annual WITS Summit was held in Hood River, Oregon, this year and the attendance and enthusiasm were at their highest yet. The Columbia Gorge Arts in Education hosted the event, and participants came from organizations around the state, including Fishtrap, The Nature of Words, professor Marjorie Sandor and four students from Oregon State University’s MFA program, Wordstock, Writers in the Schools, Write Around Portland, Young Writers Association, and we had a special presentation by Sara Exposito, a professor at Lewis and Clark College.
In the morning, each organization shared what they’ve been working on over the past year. Nearly everyone spoke of having their contributed income from grants and endowments decrease, but at the same time a few had secured new sources of income and were expanding their programs and/or hiring staff. Many organizations had experimented with new strategies and residencies over the past year, and they shared their triumphs and challenges. Some orgs had more volunteers than they could use, while others were hoping to get more applicants for writers-in-residence programs (which is good news for Oregonian writers!). Overall, the day was filled with conversation about how arts education is adapting, growing, and doing phenomenal work despite financial challenges.
Exposito’s presentation on teaching creative writing to Latina youth—or any marginalized student population—was insightful and touched on struggles that many artists-in-residence have faced. She shared her experiences with teaching writing, and the importance of creating a safe space for students to write in and finding mentors who care about the students.
As always, the exchange of ideas and strategies at the WITS Summit was invaluable. Many organizations are forging new partnerships in their communities, diversifying their funding streams, and raising awareness of the services they provide to their local communities. Some were exploring online writing courses to increase rural access. Others were doing teen writing camps, scholarships for students to writing retreats, monthly radio readings and themed classes for students. All were passionate about reaching out to all students, no matter their background or geographic location. It was nothing short of inspiring to hear how hard everyone works!
The highlight was hearing presenters share individual stories of how their work has changed lives. It was a good reminder of the importance of arts education and why everyone works so hard at their nonprofit or school. At the end of the day, it was great to feel connected to so many people who are actively working to nurture creativity throughout Oregon. Thanks to our presenters, our host, and all our participants. We’re excited to see what everyone accomplishes in the upcoming year!