Margaret Weisbrod Morris‘s background in arts education and art therapy makes her an eloquent advocate for the arts. She relishes her work as Chief Executive Director of the Lawrence Arts Center.. She and her staff strive daily to bring joy to residents of Douglas County and beyond.
Morris explains that the arts sustain the infrastructure of culture, preserve democracy, and record who we are. Involvement in the arts correlates to improved school success, employability, and civic engagement. The arts have an impact on health and wellness and build the trust and empathy that can bring people together.
In addition, the economic impact of the arts is substantial. The arts make up 4.3% of the U.S. economy and employ 2.04% of the workforce. In Douglas County, the impact is proportionately even higher. A dollar spent on the arts in Lawrence has an impact of $24.25. Arts generate $1.25 million in local revenue.
The Lawrence Arts Center has been able to avoid staff and programming cuts during COVID because of a particular benefactor. As a result, it has continued to deliver activities and performances that sustain community well-being. In addition, Morris notes, the organization has found it needed to be creative in a whole new sense, re-inventing its delivery systems to include online tools and devising strategies to become accessible to distant and wider audiences. Innovative programs include Kitty City and a youth theater production of “The Big One-Oh” in a video-on-demand format.
Dr. David Cook, Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs and Economic Development at the University of Kansas, provided an update about KU, it’s current issues and initiatives.
Dealing with COVID pandemic has been the preoccupying concern of University leaders. Testing protocols that were implemented in fall 2020 have proved to be successful, and the University will adopt a similar plan for the 2021 spring semester. Cook was pleased to report that at this time there have been no transmissions, no hospitalizations, and no deaths associated with the virus on campus.
Other good news: There was a smaller enrollment drop due to the pandemic than anticipated last spring. Retention of students has been good with drops occurring primarily in the international student population and in number of the incoming freshman.
The University continues to move forward on several initiatives. A new Welcome Center to be located near the Alumni Center on campus will improve the first impression that the campus presents to prospective students.
Other initiatives include KU’s involvement with the University Engineering Initiative Act (UEIA); an expansion of the Bioscience and Technology Business Center (BTBC) on west campus and work to recruit companies for job growth and capital investment and to place graduates in the local economy; and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) task force will make recommendations.
Kris Krishtalka is someone who thinks deeply about genomic biodiversity, evolutionary patterns, and the history of science. He is professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics – Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. He also serves as director of the KU Biodiversity Institute.
Kris declares that humans are the newest and most powerful geologic agents transforming the planet. As evidence of the impact of human activity, he notes that the earth stopped vibrating for four months in early 2020 when people stopped their normal routines in order to control the coronavirus. We create, transform, and destroy life of earth.
He names five urgent challenges now facing mankind:
- Appreciating the diversity of life by documenting more of the 3.6 to 18 million species estimated to live on the planet.
- Figuring out how are species related.
- Learning the language of life in genomes and their coding.
- Exploring how ecosystems fit together and their interdependencies.
- Accepting that natural history and human history are now one and the same.
To address the challenges at hand, Kris believes we must focus attention on microbial life. As a recent article in The Economist entitled “Microbes Maketh Man” explains, human metabolism and health are controlled by microbes. They are ubiquitous, ever-changing, superabundant, diverse, and comprise 95% of the biosphere.
Read more of Kris’ ideas in the Biodiversity blog at KU.
Educators and other volunteers walk from the bus station in Brownsville, TX, across the Rio Grande to Bridge Plaza in Matamoros, Mexico. Each pulls a wagon of food, basic necessities, and donated clothing and shoes. What began as a modest effort to help those seeking asylum in the United States has evolved into a robust non-profit entity called Team Brownsville.
Cynthia Smith, Lawrence-area attorney, activist and volunteer, visited Brownsville in late 2019. She described the situation to Lawrence journalists when she returned, declaring “these are human beings” and deserve our help.
Brownsville educators initiated assistance to asylum seekers when the Department of Homeland Security changed the protocols for people seeking admission to the U.S. These people are attempting to enter the United States legally. They are individuals and families who are running for their lives from drug cartels and gangs. Smith pointed out that they were peaceful, organized, industrious, and grateful for help.
Each person or family seeking asylum is interviewed. If they are deemed to have a “credible fear,” they are referred to immigration court. In the past, they were released into the US with papers to await their court date and could find work and live productively. Rules in place since January 2019, however, require them to await their court date in Mexico. Most squat in tent cities just across the border. They have neither resources to be self-sufficient nor other types of support.
Thanks to the on-going attention of Team Brownsville and their own contributed labor, the 1200 residents of the tent city in Matamoros now have water for washing and drinking, portable toilets, showers, and space to ward off COVID infection . Another non-profit offers medical care. Volunteers deliver and serve food daily. They provide “sidewalk schools” for the children. These basics provide invaluable dignity to those who live in this situation.
Mitzi McFatrich is passionate about caring for the elderly in Kansas.
In her position as Executive Director of Kansas Advocacy for Better Care, McFatrich helps coordinate an annual legislative forum on senior issues, provides legislative progress reports and assists seniors in participating in the governmental process.
Founded in Lawrence in 1966 by six women concerned about the quality of nursing homes in the state, KABC is a statewide advocacy group that works to ensure that older adults receive safe, compassionate care at home or in an adult care facility.
KABC addresses legislative issues related to the quality of long-term care and the elimination of elder abuse. It provides guidance and support to elders and their families as they face the challenges of finding quality care and solving care problems. In addition, it provides education and support to constituencies who may need special training in order to deal effectively and safely with the elderly. Among the publications on their website are a wide assortment of booklets, reports, and other materials.
McFartrich encourages everyone who shares her concern to participate in KABC’s annual fundraising event, Stand By Me.