Art of Listening Shapes this Phase of the Byway of Art Project

Work is progressing on the Center for Rural Affairs “Byway of Art” project in four neighboring northeast Nebraska towns. The fun kicked off last fall with a series of Outdoor Living Rooms in the communities of Decatur, Lyons, Macy, and Oakland.

The living room settings allowed community members to exchange ideas on their hopes, visions, wishes, and opinions for their towns. Adele Phillips, project leader, and visiting artist Matthew Mazotta have used what they learned to come up with ideas for a temporary art fabrication in each community.

Lyons Mirror-Sun editor Jamie Horter recently interviewed Adele and Matthew about their progress and their process. Jamie and the paper kindly gave permission for us to use portions of her interview here.

Adele and Matthew's ideas were introduced to each town with varying methods. In Lyons, a focus group met first and then reported to the city council. In Decatur, a large turnout at an initial public meeting influenced the artists to drop the original plan and go in another direction.

In Macy, a meeting with the tribal council led to a resolution to support the art project. Subsequent meetings in Macy and Oakland continue this month.

Jamie asked what it had been like working with each community. Adele felt that Decatur was a close knit, expressive community. “People have shown a lot of interest in the project,” she said.

Matthew heard many comments from Lyons locals about “small town Main Street America," influencing the project concept. Adele and Matthew have discussed Swedish heritage in Oakland as part of the local culture. In Macy, Matthew saw a “wealth of creativity.” The community of makers creates art that reinforces their culture.

The $200,000 grant funding through Art Place America has enabled creation of 7 part-time jobs and provided for materials, logistics, and administrative work. Adele pointed out, "It's not tax dollars; it's private foundations and private banks. This is money that wouldn't have been available otherwise.”

The pair relishes their connections with community members to make the projects possible. "We feel honored and privileged to do this work," Adele said. Matthew added, “We feel blessed by people who have opened up their lives to us. We hope we can give back as much as people have given."

The Byway of Art project is scheduled to be completed this fall. The socially engaged temporary artworks will create a unique scenic byway between the four rural communities. We can't wait to see them!

Thanks to the Lyons paper for permission to base this article on “Art Projects Commence in Four Communities,” by Jamie Horter, Editor, Lyons Mirror-Sun,