Many a month ago, as a young writing student, a professor took me and a few classmates to an antique store. The task is to find something that sparks the imagination. A trigger theme, he calls it.
While there may be some valuable furniture on site, the “shop” could be more accurately described as a large barn filled with curiosities, artifacts, and stories. The whole room was filled with old dolls with severed limbs or eyes, bears on horseback, fishermen and bobcats, wagon wheels and farm implements, mannequins, stone tools and sculptures. It’s easy to get lost.
On a glass display case near the old cash register sits a box of used postcards. I spent an hour browsing Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Devils Tower, and a hundred other places of interest across the country. Mostly these cards were mailed to loved ones in the 1950’s and 60’s. On the back of each sheet, there is a short handwritten note, story, or simple thoughts. The desire to connect (or reconnect), a common adverb in these postcards, became my triggering theme, firing my imagination and giving me clarity on the task at hand. (In this case, writing unpublishable short stories.)
Often, at the start of a new year, I’m reminded of this exercise in imagination, of that antique barn, and of the need to find a trigger theme month that will drive the next 12 years. Of course, it’s common to make resolutions in the new year, set goals, turn the old page, and move into the next with new purpose and motivation. For a nonprofit like Ucross, it’s essential business.
I’m not talking about budgets, KPIs, and funding criteria. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe that we have to take stock of what we have accomplished over the past year, analyze our activities, and assess how we are achieving our goals, financial and otherwise, but January seems to be the right time Find that trigger theme, shape that story, and imagine the year ahead so we can move forward with a clear vision. If we get it right, annual budgets and strategic plans are like those postcard boxes — a starting point, a reminder of the stories we’ll be telling throughout the year.
Fortunately for nonprofits like Ucross, triggering themes is often the mission of the organization. In our case, the story of the coming year is also about our five-year vision and our 40th anniversary. We’ve been looking forward to this anniversary for a few years now, imagining how it will play out. As we finalize our budget and plans for this year, we will focus on maintaining our role as one of the nation’s leading artist-in-residence programs, providing relevant and meaningful programming for our artists and communities, and celebrating Wyoming’s contribution to the nation’s arts and cultural contribution.
In 2023, we hope you will see yourself as a part of our story and support events and activities that interest you, including our 40th Anniversary Celebration at WYO on February 25th “Music and Poetry with Joy Harjo night”. Harjo is a three-time U.S. Poet Laureate, Ucross alumnus, and one of the most popular and respected poets in the country, and we are thrilled to bring her to Sheridan. (Visit WYO’s website for tickets.) Or you might be interested in Field Guide, our upcoming exhibition at the Ucross Art Gallery (opening February 21) or special events such as Founders Day (June), Ucross Festival (August), or our 40th Anniversary celebration at Ucross (Fall).
January is full of hope. As we look ahead to the year ahead and put our plans into action, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating 2023.