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Wednesday, 30 March 2016 14:54

The arts thrive only if we support them

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op fr“The arts are so incredibly vital to a quality of life, smart business and the health of a community. The arts teach us to appreciate beauty, to make visible our thoughts, ideas and inspirations and to continually problem solve. These are important life skills that apply to every aspect of community, family and business. The survival of the arts is paramount to our happiness and also our innovation.”

— Kari Rinn, Haywood Community College director of Creative Arts

When regional arts leaders gathered two weeks ago at Western Carolina University for the “LEAD: Arts” summit, comments like those from HCC Creative Arts Director Kari Rinn were coming from the mouths of many in attendance. It was as if a group of under-appreciated creative minds finally got their few minutes in the spotlight, and they were eager to share their views. Not that anyone was whining or walking around with their hats out. Quite the contrary.

From what SMN writer Garret K. Woodward reported in his story about the event (www.smokymountainnews.com/aae/item/17346), it seems that everyone wanted to tell anyone who would listen that the arts are a vital aspect of what makes this mountain region so special. 

“The arts in WNC are at a tipping point. Our reputation for being an art, music and craft nexus is growing on a national scale. It’s time for us to come together and make a plan on how we can all work to capitalize on our collective successes to sustain and grow our current organizations and nurture the next generation of artists,” said Denise Drury, director of the Fine Arts Museum at WCU.

I, for one, fear a different tipping point. There is plenty of evidence that we live in an era when support and promotion of the arts by political leaders is waning. 

Just this past fall there was an outcry in Buncombe County when a new county economic development and job creation plan totally excluded the arts as a sector for active job recruiting. It’s really hard to imagine that in this place where the arts are so important, in a city that is the cultural capital of the region — and the cornerstone of that “nexus” Drury mentioned above — that the arts would be left out of a major economic development initiative. But it happened.

And of course we all know what is happening in our public schools. In the name of testing and student achievement, the arts are getting either eliminated or simply cut to the bone. Music, theater, art, and foreign languages are all in a downward spiral in favor of extra science and math classes. 

I’m not knocking those who find fulfillment in those important academic areas. That’s not the point. For centuries, though,  western civilization has placed the arts on an equal footing with science. Politicians today are wont to extol the inspiration of our founding fathers, but they often forget that those men placed a high emphasis on music, architecture, languages and what we now refer to as a “liberal arts” education. In fact, at that time one couldn’t be considered educated without a strong grounding in the arts.

The interplay between the arts and the patrons of the arts is always a moving target. In an age when a growing political movement is based almost entirely on an anti-government or a “never raise taxes” mentality, community arts leaders will have to be more creative than ever. The recent summit should serve as a catalyst for finding ways to work together and grow awareness. 

We do live in a nexus of the arts, a place that attracts and inspires creative spirits. But it will not survive unless it is nurtured. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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