Understanding Hays through short film series

A short film about Hays’ historical turning point premiered at the annual meeting of the Hays Art Council at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Robbins Center on the Fort Hays State University campus.

The film is part of a short film series titled “Turning Points: Stories of Change.” The film was selected after a proposal for production by the Kansas Humanities Council.

“The ‘Turning Points’ project is about one point in a community’s history, within the last 50 years, that has caused great change,” said Noelle Husmann, Kearney, Neb., senior and public relations coordinator of the Hays Public Library.

Nonprofit organizations across Kansas wrote proposals pitching their community’s significant pivotal moment – or turning point. In addition to Hays, the communities selected are Ulysses, Kinsley and Olathe.

“The initial request for proposals was brought up at a workshop I was at,” said Luci Bain, Hays Public Library’s Kansas Room librarian.

The library proposed to KHC that the formation of the Hays Arts Council was a turning point for the community. It was the first arts council to be established in the state of Kansas, according to Husmann.

“The Art of Change,” Hays’ short film in the series, starts by telling the story of two music enthusiasts enjoying a cup of coffee and discussing the need for more city involvement in the arts. This led to the formation of the Hays Arts Council in 1965. However, the arts council was not chartered until 1967, according to Bain.

The film continues with discussion about the different people who built the council and includes interviews, according to Bain.

Those interviewed in the film are local artists Pete Felten and Darrell McGinnis and a former chair of the Fort Hays State University Art Department, John C. Thorns, Jr. “The Art of Change” was dedicated to Thorns, who died shortly after being interviewed for the film.

The film ends with a message about “when the arts are secure in a community, the community itself is strong,” Bain said. “All the other needs are being met.”

“This is obviously true, because Downtown Hays shows vibrancy,” Bain said.

Many community members are seen in the film hanging out at Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Co., 117 E. 11th St., and viewing art throughout parts of downtown during the Spring Art Walk.

Preparation and production of the four films took 15 months and was an “amazing, if not long, journey,” said Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council, 112 E. 11th St.

“It’s been a gratifying project,” Bain said, adding she hopes the film makes everyone proud to be here in Hays.

Premieres will continue in Kinsley on Oct. 26 and are scheduled in Olathe on Nov. 8 and in Ulysses on Dec. 6. After the final premiere on Dec. 6, the Kansas Humanities Council will post the films on its website, kansashumanities.org, for public view.

The community has another free opportunity to see the film at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in the banquet room of Gella’s, according to Bain.

There will also be a showing in December during the library’s Feed and Film Series, according to Bain. The date is yet to be determined, but the series always occurs at noon on Wednesday’s.

The majority of the funding for the film came from a donation from Suzi Miner, according to Bain.

The film series is in memory of Miner’s husband, Craig Miner, a Kansas historian. Gizmo Productions in Topeka produced the films, according to Bain.

At the Hays premiere, a discussion broke out during a question and answer session with panelist Mayor Henry Schwaller IV. Dennis Schiel, president of Hays Arts Council, and Eric McHenery, project scholar, talked about the financial struggles to keep the arts alive across the state.

The panelists agreed that the council, despite the lack of government and state funding, has enough local support that it thrives, and it has thrived through all the economy shifts since it was first established in the 1965.

The council carries a legacy of “active and engaged citizens” by hosting projects, activities and educational programs year around, Schwaller said.

“We measure our lives by milestones,” McHenery said, “We tell the stories of turning points.”

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