Assessing local culture: Kansas Sampler

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

Kansas isn’t known only for basketball and the Little House on the Prairie. And oil wells and cowboys and ancient oceans with the remains of giant fish. And sunflowers and tallgrass prairies and the conterminous center of the nation and an amazing amount of U.S. history.

That’s enough to make me want to start planning a vacation, but there’s something else about Kansas that’s quite interesting, something that we can borrow and investigate here in Morenci. It’s the “Elements of Rural Culture” assessment from the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

Here’s the introduction to the foundation’s rural culture assessment program:

Many rural communities squirm when asked, “What does your community have that a visitor would want to see?” The answer (given too often) is, “We don't have anything in this town.” The truth is every town has a story to tell and offer visitors but it is sometimes hard to see what is right under your nose.

The Sampler program lists eight elements of rural culture used to assess a community: architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history and people.

Examine your community through those eight features and you’ll know who you are.

Take architecture, for example. The guide suggests looking at the downtown buildings and mills and barns and churches to determine when they were built, who designed them, where the building material came from, etc. This should lead to some interesting findings.

We have to get past the loss of the auditorium, the hotel, the mill, the old city hall/fire station and all the other buildings that were demolished, and take a closer look at what’s left. Not so much the new trend of steel siding, but the older wood and bricks.

What about art? The foundation asks questions such as these: do you have sculptures, murals or grassroots art? Is there a place where you can see a local artist at work? Think about people, places or events to find music, fine art, drama, literature or dance in your town.

They’re probably not thinking of dancing at the Eagles, nor are they referring to the abundance of bulldog paintings scattered around our town. Art could be a tough element for this city.

Maybe we need to follow the lead of Partridge, Kan., a town of about 213 people where a Garage Sale Art Show was organized. Buy the pieces at a garage sale and create your art using non-powered tools. It’s a perfect tie-in to our annual garage sale day.

When considering commerce, think about why your town was founded. Is it known for a certain kind of business? Are there stores located in historic or unique buildings? Research the lineage of businesses in each building.

Do we have specialty foods served in our restaurants? What kind of food is served at church suppers? Do we have local traditions about certain foods or how we eat them?

Is the Barney Burger still served at the east end of town? Are church turkey dinners being abandoned in favor of swiss steak?

Do we have unique customs? We have our festival, but is it in any way unique in the area? Are there quirky things that happen regularly? There’s the Bridge Walk, of course. What do we do for recreation?

It’s under the heading of customs where you learn the capitals of Kansas: the Prairie Chicken Capital, the Watermelon Capital, the Halloween Capital, the Cow Chip Capital, the Covered Dish Capital, etc.

Geography leads us to our natural landscape, such as Bean Creek, the glacial features in the area, and all the plants and animals that inhabit the territory.

Do we have much history? What are the significant events that made us what we are? How about a walking tour of the town that tells the story of our past?

This brings us down to the final element, people. Do we have any historically significant people? Do we have any present-day characters? What is the story of our population?

So think it over—what do we have to show a visitor? It’s going to take some heavy-duty thinking.

   – April 9, 2003 

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