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Wednesday, 03 August 2016 16:30

Symposium will, hopefully, provide some food for thought

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When Christopher Holt contacted me in March about a trip he was about to embark on to Cuba, I was fascinated. 

Holt is a painter, and in recent years he has built part of his career around traveling to distant places — Egypt, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, to name a few — and doing plein air work, meeting people through his painting, and then trying to make a living off those works when he returns to Western North Carolina.

As a child — from the time I was 6 until I turned 9 — my family lived in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My father was a career Navy guy, and the three years we spent in Cuba are probably the most idyllic memories of my childhood. The talk about Cuba struck a chord with me, and I definitely wanted to pursue this story.

When we began discussing the story package about his trip — Christopher and one of his traveling companions, Wyman Tannehill, were both raised in Waynesville — I started to learn more about Holt’s work and his artistic life. One aspect of it that hit home for me was how he spoke of giving back, of working with artists he meets and how he always finds time to teach. 

One of the better memories from the trip, he told me, was the reaction from a Cuban artist after Tannehill gave him a digital camera. Something so simple and inexpensive to an American was monumental to this man and would allow him to expand his horizons as an artist.

The people in the habit of making such gestures usually take center stage in my memories. One of the most impressionable lessons I got from taking my daughters to piano lessons all those years was one their teacher used to emphasize: sharing music is the giving of a gift to someone or to a group of people. It’s a sharing, and for them music was the bond, was the basis for the connection they made with so many people.

When you are on the receiving end of those gifts it certainly makes one feel good. My father-in-law is a voracious reader, and nearly every time I see him he is offering up a book he thinks will interest me. For many years my brother-in-law — as big a music fiend as you’ll come across — was always passing along mix CDs or introducing my wife and me to new musicians or groups.

It’s not the book or the CD that makes these interactions so special, but the fact that someone has given you something of themselves, their time, and their thoughts. When you share that, a connection is made that is very personal.

Which brings me around to the symposium and art show at The Strand at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 4 (pre-event social at 6:30 p.m.), that The Smoky Mountain News is helping organize. “Cuba in Focus: Observations from the Ground” includes Holt’s paintings, Tannehill’s photographs, and a discussion from those two and Asheville journalist Jon Elliston. Sponsors also include The Strand at 38 Main and The Haywood County Arts Council.

For the last several years, several staff members here at SMN have been discussing starting a discussion series focusing on the arts, history, politics, current events, literature, music and many other topics. We don’t see this as any kind of business proposition but more a way to encourage discussion and to bring the community together and foster a deeper understanding of some issue or interesting cultural event. 

Newspapers large and small have played this role in their communities, and so we are looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Anyone who knows Lorraine Conard — one of The Strand’s owners — knows she has been working for a couple of years now to host and organize events just like this and to do it for all the right reasons. Lindsey Solomon, the executive director of the Haywood County Arts Council, is also a big supporter.

So, if you’re an intellectually curious person who wants to hear first-hand about Cuba from people willing to share their experiences — and perhaps meet some like-minded souls — come out Thursday night and help us kick off what I hope will become a symposium/discussion series this community will embrace.

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

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