Judging a society by what it values
A lot of ink has been spilled over the new $10.3 million crafts education building at Haywood Community College, and for good reason. The building’s cost and its environmentally friendly energy-saving features were both somewhat controversial.
I’m among those who are guilty of contributing to the ink spill. We’ve run several stories, and three weeks ago I wrote a column supporting the building’s construction. My contention then was that the building’s features and costs had been adequately debated, questioned and some features fine-tuned, so it was time to move on. And that is exactly what commissioners did when they approved the building’s construction last week.
While the main thrust of all the arguments about the building have been very tangible, there are a couple of intangibles that are very relevant. In fact, these intangibles might, in the long run, be what is most important about this debate.
I’m a huge sports fan. I can watch 8-year-old girls playing AYSO soccer and totally get into the game, gauging each participant’s athleticism, the coach’s work in preparing the teams, and the demeanor of the parents. On the other hand, I can also stay engrossed in an NFL game where the participants are overpaid and often way too full of themselves. Once the game starts, that stuff mostly goes away and it’s all about the physical contest.
I bring this point up only because I’m among those who moan when we — society, government, whomever you want to put into this category — skimp on monuments to learning while we build extravagant sports stadiums and pay athletes crazy salaries. I know this is an overworked argument and that it’s always been this way. One has only to see the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome to know that this infatuation with games is very much a part of our history.
But guess what? Those ancients also lavished attention and resources on the arts and learning. So while the Coliseum is grand, you can visit Roman and Greek ruins wherever they exist and see vestiges of grand libraries and theaters. I clearly remember walking the marble road in Ephesus (Turkey) and seeing the great library (or its ruins) to which it led.
Our society is neglecting education and the arts. We have politicized education, the most damning of fates for something so valuable. The crafts building at HCC is certainly not any kind of extravagant monument, but I’m glad we’ve decided to make this building the number one building priority for Haywood Community College.
Another important point is that Western North Carolina is a place that values small businesses and self-sufficiency. The crafts program at HCC is unique in that it mixes arts and entrepreneurship. I personally know a half dozen or so graduates of the program, and they have built some of the most well-known arts and craft businesses in this region. They are important parts of the civic and social fabric of WNC and investing in this program is simply a reflection of what is best about our mountain region.
This whole debate, at one level, is about how we value arts and education. By my estimation, neither is given its proper place in mainstream American society these days. That’s a situation we need to correct.