Sunday, December 5, 2010

Growth, tourists not true measure of a community

It’s time to place the focus in our community on what really matters – on what separates real communities from pretenders.

It’s not how many cowboy-related events and festivals the chamber of commerce cobbles together to pack the town on summer weekends and boost tourism. Sorry, but rodeo’s time has come and gone.

It’s not how many cookie cutter subdivisions developers can throw up to help us reach our build-out of 30-some thousand people.

It’s not how many new companies Mike Vogel can huff and puff and entice to open their doors in the Rim Country.

It’s not whether we can convince ASU to come up here and open a four-year college.

It’s not even the securing of Blue Ridge water, the oft-delayed, much-debated pipedream that makes all of the above possible.

No, it’s all about building an enhanced quality of life for the people who live here, and that isn’t measured in growth or tourist dollars no matter what the chamber of commerce would have you believe.

Quality of life is a lot of things, but one of the best measures is our commitment to and support of the arts. American journalist Lincoln Steffens put it well: “Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.”

I don’t think anybody would argue that our landscape is bereft of those flowers, and that we have a long way to go to make them bloom in multi-colored splendor. But of even more concern, some recent developments suggest we might be slipping backward. Consider…

Last weekend the Payson Art League’s annual fall show was held at the casino – without all the exposure it deserved because the information was not disseminated to all the media outlets for fear of offending one newspaper.

The truly good movies often don’t play here. When you call to ask why, you’re told it’s because the community won’t support them. So instead, we get movies that appeal to the lowest common denominator – shoot-‘em-ups and trashy thrillers full of car chases.

There was a time we at least had a viable amateur theater company. Today, the only thing we have left that resembles live theater is the comedy dinner theater at Mo Joe’s -- a worthy effort, but we need more.

And this just in – an e-mail from local drummer and jazz enthusiast Gerry Reynolds asking if we are still interested in supporting the monthly jazz performances he brings to Community Presbyterian Church. Seems attendance has been flagging, leading to one of the smallest crowds ever one recent Sunday.

So instead of making strides forward in our support of the arts, momentum seems to have stalled and may even be sliding backwards. Not acceptable.

How long will tourists keep coming back if they find nothing of substance when they get here?

How do you put people in the new subdivisions of a community that is artistically barren?

Why would college students choose to live in a town that can’t even generate a live stage play?

And why would a new restaurant or business owner want to come here if there’s nothing to attract quality, upscale customers?

Folks, we are at the proverbial fork in the road here in the Rim Country. The path we choose relative to the arts will ultimately determine our quality of life – and that, not rodeos or exclusive golf courses, will lead us to economic prosperity.

If we focus on what matters, the rest will follow. New businesses will come. Tourism will grow. A four-year college will thrive.

And if we don’t, we become another Prescott Valley – without the benefit of a Prescott to provide some of what we wouldn’t do for ourselves.

We have a great little art community, including two excellent co-op art galleries on historic Main Street. We have the Tonto Community Concert Association. We need to nurture and support them.

We need to keep calling the Sawmill Theater to ask about movies we want to see and to insist that they be brought to Payson. And then we need to go see them so they will keep coming.

We need to tell Gerry Reynolds we want his jazz concerts and we appreciate how much he does to bring them to us – and then we need to turn out on Sunday afternoons to savor them.

We need a theater company. We need a high-powered radio station with an eclectic music format and a relevant talk show. We need more coffee houses. We need a wine bar. We need a vibrant, relevant Main Street.

Yes, we’re a cowboy town. Yes our heritage is important. But we don’t want to remain a cowtown mired in another century. Like a worn-out horse after a long day on the trail, the cowboy thing will only carry us so far.

We need sustenance, and not the kind we on the main dreag through town – aka fast food row. We need vision, and not the kind you get from cheap reading glasses.

As American writer and artist Elbert Hubbard said, “Art is not a thing; it is a way.”

1 comment:

Noble said...

There's a great song by The Gatlin Brothers titled, "All the gold in California" (is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills).

The arts - especially performance arts like theater and music are always funded and kept alive by money, usually big money. The same can be said for museums, dance, visual art, etc.

To do these things right requires big money in a constant stream, because they are typically money losers. Even in large cities the art world is constantly busy with fundraisers and solitations for tax deductable donations.

You want a great franchise? George Steinbrenner comes to mind.

The fundamentals are the same in a small town.

Most of the money in Payson is locked up behind the gates of the Chapparral Pines Club and the Rim Club. If either of these entities wanted top notch arts in Payson, there would be top notch arts in Payson. The great unwashed masses, meanwhile, must make do with what is available.

The college will bring a new dimension to the scene. Colleges just naturally spawn crreative activity, especially in the areas of music and drama. The atmosphere is far more democratic, also. Creative activities are open to whomever enjoys and appreciates them for their true richness and not for their haute exclucivity.

Sing it Larry !