Rebecca Juliette on Art & Music Festival Common Ground on the Hill

Common Ground on the Hill (CGOTH) is just about to wrap up its second week of classes, concerts and general camaraderie. This is the twentieth year for the music and arts “camp” held at McDaniel College in Westminster… and this might very well be the first time that you’ve heard of it.

Founded by Walt Michael in 1994, the program brings local and world-class artists, musicians, and craftspeople together to share techniques, tell stories, and teach a variety of classes in their specialties. At least that’s how it can be described on paper. The real experience, however, escapes the page.

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This is my sixth year attending. And while I’ve enjoyed doing everything from building a mountain dulcimer to participating in gospel choir, I’ve learned that the *magic* of Common Ground happens outside of the classroom. The campus is abuzz with creative energy and has become a true meeting place for those drawn to the arts and artistic lives. When the evening concert wraps up, the community comes together in circles of shared music or poetry, and artists inspire each other.

While it is too late to sign up for classes this year, it isn’t too early to start thinking about adding a week (or two!) at Common Ground to your summer schedule in 2015. There’s also a two day music festival this weekend at the Carroll County Farm Museum that will give you a peek into the kind of scene that has been taking place in the sleepy suburbs just to the north. The activities at CGOTH are far from sleepy. In fact, sleep is one thing that it is short on. From sunrise to way beyond sundown, there is always something going on that is worth staying up for.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Linda Van Hart, the Visual Arts Coordinator at Common Ground since day one. She’s an accomplished metalsmith with a passion for arts education, both as an instructor at McDaniel College and as the driving force behind the exciting and diverse offerings in visual art at CGOTH. Linda was gracious enough to take time out of an incredibly busy schedule to answer a few questions for BmoreArt.

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Rebecca Juliette: How did you personally become involved with Common Ground?

Linda Van Hart: Walt talked to first and current president Bill Troxler and I about this idea, which was rather fully formed in his mind in the early 90’s when he had decided to move back to Maryland. We engaged some other students and professors of the 60’s who were interested in making positive change in the world through communication in the arts and rippled out from there. I had just been part of the National Art Education Association, planning for events in DC and Baltimore encompassing about 4500 members in each city, so had recently added event planning confidence to my  teaching and art skills (recognized as National Art Educator of the Year). I really was enthusiastic that we could pull this off if the college came on board as our location. Walt and I kinda raised each other among a diverse group of friends at then Western Maryland College so it seemed very natural to say YES! to forming a Common Ground family and get this rolling from our hearts and souls on this campus where I have been an adjunct since ’81 and half time since ’98.

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RJ: What is the focus of the art/crafting arm of Common Ground?

LVH: We aim to communicate significant content through our communication in and about the visual arts with master teachers encouraging novices and sharpening the skills of other masters. At the Gallery Talks we address issues such as, In this throwaway culture is craftsmanship a thing of the past? Did changing the name of the Museum of Modern Craft to The Museum of Art and Design officially announce the removal of attention to CRAFT in the 21st century? Does appreciating and owning a well crafted item enhance a well crafted life? Has beauty been relegated to the beginning of the last century? How does how our generation’s value of what is well crafted and what is beautiful differ from teens and tweens in this digital world? Can artists of today compete with and learn from artists of the past? How does that impact what they make? Can artists with a passion for their chosen media kindle a similar fire within students that warms them from summer to summer by recognizing their inner artist and satisfying their individual voice by practicing this art?

RJ: Can you speak to the unique experience of artists who participate in the traditions week programs?

LVH: We make friends, continue our discussions beyond Common Ground, even visiting each other in other states and countries. Like freindships forged in college, such as the ones that helped found Common Ground, the relationships formed here are spontaneous, genuine and tight brought about by some magnetism. The hugs you get and give are not contrived. Trust exists here and thrives in the energy we bring to McDaniel unlike anything I have felt in my many years teaching on this campus. Other professors who visit during Common Ground can’t help but identify this current and atmosphere as unique to Common Ground. I have visited Common Ground friends in France, Switzerland, Scotland and California to name a few places.

RJ: Are there any area instructors that you would like to highlight?

LVH: Sure!

Ellen Elmes: first recipient of the Common Ground on the Hill Fine Arts & Crafts Award for Excellence in the Traditional Arts

Roy Kady: 2nd visual Arts Award winner

Sakim  (Cherokee/Seminole elder) and Robin Tillery his ” apprentice?” Bring the flute to us as our sacred center and the voice of our awakening to CG

Jeanean Martin: painter and musician who, with her family, carries the voice and spirit of CG all over the world in her workshops

Kelsey Wailes: a young emerging artist and teacher making her way in the world and bringing her generation to CG

There are so many!

RJ: How do you think that CG can engage the greater Baltimore community of artists and craftspeople?

LVH: Common Ground gives every participant an opportunity to immerse themselves in a chosen artistic path or to sample from our vast and enticing menu to discover the artist within and nourish that feeling and talent for an entire week every summer. Families take advantage of these two weeks again and again as a renewal and celebration of their creative place in the world.  Educators take Common Ground classes for credit to appreciate the diversity we encompass on this campus every summer. Baltimore artists and students of the arts in Baltimore should come to the Common Ground table to experience this rich banquet of the arts! We are scarsely an hour away, but what a universe we create here at McDaniel College.

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For more information about Common Ground on the Hill, go to their website: http://www.commongroundonthehill.org.