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The core wisdom of Common Ground on the Hill's work from is that there is a common human thread unifying all people, expressed in our artistic traditions. Our mission is to make this thread a path towards human understanding, tolerance, fulfillment, and enjoyment.

Common Ground on the Hill, a non-profit organization located on the campus of McDaniel College in Westminster, MD, draws together a diverse spectrum of people through roots music, the arts, and learning. Through formal and informal classes, concerts and jam sessions, exhibits, and discussions, participants are encouraged to share knowledge and perspectives through the arts on many issues facing our society. We have four major programs:

(1) Traditions Weeks - two weeks of summer workshops with more than 850 students and 150 instructors

(2) Two roots music festivals

(3) Concert series in Westminster and Baltimore, and

(4) How to jam classes

No other summer roots music program can match Common Ground on the Hill’s diversity, with its broad mix of genres from African Dance and Drumming to the DC Bluegrass Union’s Bluegrass and Old-time Music Camp, or its integration of visual arts, traditional crafts, dance, and film, dialog, and topical issues. No comparable program devotes the resources that we do to reach out to low-income populations, to immigrants, and to people of color. It thrills me to see so many different young people with banjos, lap dulcimers, and paintbrushes!

Traditions Weeks students and faculty come from throughout the USA, Canada, and western Europe. During Traditions Weeks 2011, Common Ground on the Hill served 344 scholarship students of all ages and backgrounds, including 275 low-income urban high school students in the Summer Academic Enrichment Program. The Traditions Weeks student body also includes 90 Carroll County teachers earning graduate education credits. Participants were 57% Caucasian, and 36% African-American. 3% were age 12 or younger, 43% teenagers, 33% adults, and 21% over age 65. This diversity has particular impact in educators from Carroll County, which is rural and 92% white, yet adjacent to Baltimore and DC and rapidly changing.

Going forward, Common Ground on the Hill will:

1) Expand scholarship opportunities for rural Carroll County low-income students,

2) Begin an elderly outreach program,

3) Build on the success of the Summer Academic Enrichment Program to serve teachers and at-risk youth from Baltimore City Schools; and

4) Build the fund to support our scholarships.

Common Ground shows rather than tells. Rather than lecture about the cosmology of the Tewan people and the issues, Common Ground on the Hill welcomes people to a pottery class with a Tewan artist and social activist whose spiritual beliefs are embedded in her craft and whose work with Tewa Women United flows through her instruction.

A Carroll County school teacher best described this in reflecting on her experiences during Traditions Weeks 2010:

Of all the experiences, one served the most rewarding for me.  I walked into Learning Arabic, not sure what to expect.  Our instructor introduced herself and told a little about her life and background.  She was a Palestinian who grew up in Ramala.  She told us about her decision to move her family to the United States, following several close calls with the fighting between the nations of Israel and Palestine.  At first my reaction was that it was another typical sob story by an Arab who cries about how the nation of Israel is not giving them land.  As she continued talking, my perspective broadened and I thought about how I, like my Arabic instructor, arrived in Maryland.

As the week progressed, I sat back and listened.  What I found after a week in this class was that my instructor and I were much alike.  I realized that her nationality and place of residence did not make her any less of a person.  Rather, I was amazed at her friendly nature, her willingness to teach about her language and culture, and her ability to look past me being an Israeli.  She taught me in a week to dismiss any former prejudice I had about the Arab people.  I was angry at all the years I had spent judging the people of Palestine.

This week at Common Ground taught me a lot about myself.  I learned there is no greater lesson than self-reflection and using that self-reflection to work on becoming a better person.  As a teacher, my students will benefit from my lessons during the week in the form of a more open and objective classroom. As a person, society has now gained someone who had an eye opening experience that has, and will, better her.


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Arts & Culture