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Arts 101

by Emily Williams

August 8,2009

As I settle into my new virtual surroundings as editor at CV, I wanted to focus on something we discuss a lot around here: the arts, our cultural contributions, and what that means for the average Charlottean. Simple premise, yes, but permit me to elaborate a little. It’s not as easy as it seems.

If you haven’t read Lawrence Toppman’s recent take on why art and culture (read: substance) is important for Charlotte, you definitely should. He narrows in on the perfectly rational conclusion that without a symphony orchestra, without a ballet or opera company or anything that is remotely artistic…Charlotte would cease to be, well, a city. Granted, you can’t run a flourishing metropolis without a government or financial cornerstones, but without art, the city is without a soul, a shell without spirited life to keep it pumping. In times like these, we often think of the more immediate needs of one’s survival and cultural icons like Beethoven and Balzac get pushed to the side, because “frivolous” stuff like classical music and antiquated literature do not pay the bills.

Actually, for the staff and musicians of the symphony, strings and concertos do indeed pay bills.

Or maybe you consider the melodies that serenaded emperors and aristocrats 300 years ago and the abstract Cubist paintings that have blended in to the collective conscious of modern history to be something lofty, high-brow, understood only by “intellectuals” or just plain expensive. Many would argue that this is where one loses mainstream enthusiasm for quality music, art, literature, crafts…the list goes on. They could not be more wrong. Frivolous? Hardly. Perhaps for the individual, such finer enjoyments in life may be unnecessary, but for the good of the community and its longevity, culture is hardly an add-on. Try imagining Hellenistic Greece or the England of Elizabeth I without the drama, art, music or architectural milestones that made those civilizations what they were, and you will begin to understand the sort of impact that seemingly idle amusements can have on human beings.

More to the point, Charlotte sans culture equals population decrease. Consider the ripple-in-the-pond effect: out go the galleries, theater companies, and musical organizations and naturally, the fine citizens that ran them will go, too. We all know what that leads to. We all care about Charlotte’s economy and should remember that more people flock to the Blumenthal (and hence, downtown) when there is something to see there.

Here I arrive at the core of my argument (and read carefully): you do not need to be over-educated or well-heeled to love and appreciate great art, of any persuasion. Listening to Classical 89.9 WDAV is free. It’s on the radio! The museums and small galleries in our area don’t usually charge an arm and a leg for admission and the benefits are worth any price. Admiring a Monet painting or attending a classic theatrical performance does not require an advanced degree in the technical aspects of either subject. You just need to enjoy it. The logical side of the arts in Charlotte is, of course, financial productivity and results. That won’t happen if the quality work they have to offer is not very seriously considered to be another working part of the community, no more than philanthropy or schools.

The key to this is how we view ourselves as a metropolis. In all honesty, light rail and new hotels (while they are important to our growth) do not really define who we are. Transportation and hospitality are vital to commerce, but they don’t produce or bear fruit for an identity. The artistic and cultural realms of Charlotte help with that self-image, because if you’re traveling through the city from out of town and you perceive Charlotte as just another large city with a lot of construction going on (i.e. not much else), you have totally missed the point (and so have we).

Much can be garnered and relished from a city with a vibrant artistic community dedicated to bringing average folks together to savor Brahms or Van Gogh. Your job as the consumer is to simply be there and spread the word of what Charlotte has to offer.

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