When the Haywood Arts Council first formed in 1977, there was no Internet, no video stores and only a few television stations to watch each night. Rural America could not turn on an electronic device any time it wanted and watch a play, see and hear musicians perform or listen to a famous author discuss his or her work. Truth is there was almost no access to any kind of artistic variety in the boonies, and so the very idea of changing that reality probably seemed, at the time, a bit unrealistic.
But the arts have power, and the zeal of those early volunteers was an unrelenting force. The “Haywood County Arts Council Retrospective,” published to mark this anniversary, highlights the work of well-known Haywood arts supporters like James Roy Moody, Charlie Sloan, Catherine Beatty, Walt Plexico and others, and the publication also lists all the executive directors and board presidents. Just as important as these luminaries, however, is the work of hundreds of other volunteers who have stepped up at different times to do the thankless jobs that allowed concerts to be performed, exhibits to be hung and readings to draw an audience.
Perhaps most remarkable is the spin-off effect this arts council has had in Haywood County. The Haywood Arts Regional Theater, Spotlights Youth Theater, Folkmoot and many other organizations are either directly or indirectly indebted to the arts council for their very existence. That’s quite a legacy.
The exhibit now on display at the arts council’s Gallery 88 showcases the group’s history, and one accomplishment that stands out in the body of work is the diversity. Some claim the 14-year run of the Atlanta Ballet is the high point of the arts council’s work, and they would have a strong argument. Others would argue that the Junior Appalachian Music (JAM) program, which right now is influencing dozens of young musicians, might be the program for the council to hang its hat on. Any way you look at it, the ability to attract top-notch cultural events to a mountain county while putting the same energy into preserving local heritage is a great accomplishment.
The point made earlier about the Haywood County Arts Council re-inventing itself is certainly relevant today. In year’s past attracting artists to the mountains was a primary mission. Today, however, when Haywood residents have more opportunities than ever to see and hear artists of all types, the arts council has opened a first-rate galley on Waynesville’s Main Street and has begun putting an emphasis on visual arts. Five years hence it’s almost certain things will have changed from where they are now
As the Haywood County Arts Council celebrates 30 years, it’s the perfect time to thank all those who support the arts. Life in these mountains just wouldn’t be as satisfying without them.