"Common Ground: An Evening of Story Telling and Music" promises to be anything but common.

The event from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at La Poste in Perry, includes cross-cultural storytelling, poetry, music, dance and art from regular folks with heritage rooted in Iowa, Iraq, Burundi, Guatemala, Mexico and other lands.

Iowa Arts Council grantee Leslie Olsen of Perry, came up with the idea for the event as part of her grant work to write essays about place, displacement and finding place. Common Ground gives people a chance to see rich differences in other cultures, as well as their own, and explore the similarities in how people find a sense of place even when displaced. The Art on the Prairie Committee and Iowa Arts Council are event sponsors for the event.

Olsen, who has worked with refugees on and off since 2003, is currently working with refugees for the Lutheran Services in Iowa Refugee Center. She realized through her own personal experience of displacement that what she was experiencing was not so different than the experiences of refugees. As part of the grant, she has been interviewing immigrants and refugees about how they found their sense of place in a new land. "We do all kinds of things for refugees like helping them find jobs, a safe place to live and making sure they have food, but they don’t really have any help feeling at home, at not feeling displaced," she said.

"I’ve always been fascinated with cultural integration," Olsen said. "I believe integration takes place more quickly in a small town, such as Perry, than in a larger city. In a town like Perry, because of the size, you are interacting with people all the time, people are working side by side. There is a common respect for the Midwest work ethic."

Being displaced in different ways can be a common thread among people. Olsen talks about moving back to Iowa after living in a domestic abuse situation for a while. "The foundations I had were suddenly gone and I had to find them again."

She has asked the people she interviewed questions like, "What can I learn from you? What experiences can we share?"

Being displaced is not something everyone can talk about easily. Offering people a chance to share their stories without shame is often helpful. "The story-telling aspect of Common Ground was inspired by an activity called "Story Mob," being done by the Des Moines Social Club, where people get together and tell impromptu stories in five minutes or less. At the Social Club events, there are prizes awarded for the best stories. The Perry event will not be a competition, however.

The event, free and open to the public, begins with live music, then transitions into the story telling and at least multi-cultural dance performance. Participants include Olsen reading some of her essays; Mary Teresa Fallon of rural will read poetry; and Iraqi poet who lives in Des Moines, Ali Habash will read his poetry. Other people are being lined up as well. Art done by refugees who took art classes in at the Des Moines Art Center will be on display.

Live music will also end the performances and attendees are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in the music-playing. There will be non-alcoholic refreshments such as lemon water or tea, and wine will be available for purchase.

A free-will offering may be made by anyone who wants to donate with the proceeds going toward beautifying an area of Perry, said Mary Rose Nichols of the Art on the Prairie Committee.

Olsen came up with the idea for the event and it was picked up on by Art on the Prairie Committee members. Olsen planned the event as part of the goals she has set for the Iowa Arts Council Grant she received. Some of the requirements are to hold events to share her work with the public. "When I wrote for the grant, my idea was to explore the experiences of place, and being displaced," she said. Her goal is to write a story about each of the 40 rooms in the Hotel Pattee in Perry. Each room is decorated in a different theme and many have an immigrant theme. She is about three-fourths of the way through the stories she is writing.

"I wrote in my application that I wanted to write a series of creative non-fiction essays that explore the sense of place and displacement," she said.

As part of the grant, she has also been interviewing immigrants and refugees about how they found their sense of place in a new land when they came to the United States. "We do all kinds of things for refugees like helping them find jobs, a safe place to live and make sure they have food, but they don’t really have any help feeling at home, at not feeling displaced," she said.

"I’ve always been fascinated with cultural integration," Olsen said. "I believe integration takes place more quickly in a small town, such as Perry, than in a larger city. In a town like Perry, because of the size, you are interacting with people all the time."

Olsen said the project is about integration as well.

Being displaced in different ways can be a common thread among people. Olsen talks about moving back to Iowa after living in a domestic abuse situation for a while. "The foundations I had were suddenly gone and I had to find them again, find my sense of place."

What she has asked the people she interviewed includes, "What can I learn from you? What experiences can we share." And, it is about doing that sharing without shame, Olsen said.

The story-telling aspect of the Common Ground event was inspired by an activity called "Story Mob," being done by the Des Moines Social Club, where people get together and tell impromptu stories in five minutes or less. At the Social Club events, there are prizes awarded for the best stories. That won’t be the case at the Common Ground event.