That was the question ricocheting around my head as I participated in the recent “LEAD:Arts” summit at Western Carolina University. The conference aimed to bring together the creative minds of Western North Carolina. Folks who genuinely live, breathe and strive everyday to make sure the artistic flare of this region never falters, that someone, somewhere around here, is tending to the eternal fire within our souls.
And as the arts/entertainment editor for The Smoky Mountain News, I posed this question of “Why?” as I sat there at the summit, listening to the concerns of my colleagues. I didn’t ponder it out of a dislike or spite or even out of curiosity. I mulled the question over while I played devil’s advocate. What would our daily lives look and sound like without the arts in our field-of-vision?
Well, to be blunt, it would suck. A whole lot. Silence while driving without music on the radio, melodies to put a kick in our step and a song in our heart. Empty pint glasses with no craft beer by mad scientist brewers around the corner, eager to give cheers to another great day in paradise. Blank walls without paintings hanging, waiting to be interpreted and admired by those looking for a splash of color in their black and white existence. Lonely shelves without books to read, ready to take you on the adventure of a lifetime with each turning page.
As they say, Earth without “art” would just be “eh.”
My life revolves around art, and has since I was first aware of the world around me. I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who believed in the unwavering support of the arts community in my hometown. They knew and appreciated the value of creativity, especially when it came to the vitality of a time and place, and people.
Why do you think I took this gig at the newspaper? I didn’t do so because it was the only position left. I accepted it, excitedly, almost four years ago because I knew just how uniquely beautiful the art and culture of Southern Appalachia has been for centuries. And I wanted to dive down as deep as I could to find the essence of what sparks the creative flame of those who headed for the hills — in search of Mother Nature, in search of their potential, in search of themselves.
I’ve always believed the litmus test of the strength of a community resides in how well its art scene is supported. You give me a town that personally cares, and is well vested, in the arts, and I’ll give you a location that is pulsating with activity, with love and passion, intellectuality and enthusiasm for the unknowns of tomorrow — bring it on.
And in my time running around the back roads and highways of Western North Carolina, I’ve crossed paths with artistic beauty either forgotten, yet to be discovered, or held up to the societal light in awe.
It’s strolling the serene, rolling fields of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, which is so far into rural Cherokee County some might see it as the ends of the earth, but also the rainbow. It’s catching the ancient rhythms of a timeless bluegrass band at the Stecoah Valley Arts Center way out in Graham County. It’s children’s painting workshops at the Charles Heath Gallery in downtown Bryson City. It’s seasonal ales utilizing local ingredients at Lazy Hiker Brewing in Franklin. It’s blacksmithing classes at the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Dillsboro. It’s poetry readings in the depths of City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. It’s guest lectures by artists from across the country and around the globe at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. It’s international music and dance acts showcased at Folkmoot in Waynesville. It’s the next generation of torch bearing artists being shaped and polished at Haywood Community College in Clyde.
It’s all of this, and so … much … more.
I walked away from the “LEAD:Arts” summit with a renewed sense of self, and purpose. Recently, I’ve been thinking about what it is I do, and what it is I can do for those around me. As a member of the media who is art focused, I take pride in what I get up each morning and do — share the arts with all of our readers, far and wide.
And just when I thought, perhaps, that I’d had run through all my story ideas within the arts community, the conference threw more logs onto the fire of my intent and dreams. I realized I’ve only scratched the surface of the creative beauty, endless artistic depth and invaluable academic resources that walk among us.
So, I put it to you (and you, too!) reading this — are you doing enough to support the arts in your community? Are you keeping tabs on what’s going on in your town? Are you ensuring the future of the people, places and things that make up the true identity of our beloved Western North Carolina?
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Jackson County Arts Council will host a “Trashion Show” at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2, in the Community Room of the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.
2 The North Carolina Symphony, led by Associate Conductor David Glover, will perform a program of classical favorites at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
3 Four-time Grammy Award winner David Holt will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 26, at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
4 Nantahala Brewing Company (Bryson City) will host The Get Right Band (rock/funk) at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26.
5 Student poet Holly Cian and noted local poet Brent Martin will read from their work on at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, in the Community Room at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.