For nearly eight months I’ve talked about the Board of Commissioners…specifically about certain commissioners…and how their personal agendas and vendettas prevent the entire board from moving forward. They are the reason we can’t have nice things. I think I even used that as a title on an article. But…what are the nice things we can’t have?
Let’s start with art
The incomparable Earl Vaughan jr. just published an article in Up & Coming Weekly which address the sculptures in Hope Mills so I won’t linger on those for too long…but I will say we’ve lost the sculptures. Which means that within a few days time, Hope Mills will have NO art to speak of.
Art is an important part of any community. Art is also a measure of success. In much the same way that art and music are the first programs cut from a struggling budget, they’re the last programs added to a growing economy. They denote to the world, that there is an excess of time, thought, and funds. Art represents a thriving community spirit, and a lack of art indicates the local community does not have their ish together.
Art is also a marketable industry. Hope Mills has no industry and not much hope of importing a beach, national forest or major university sports team. We have to set our sights on an industry we can fabricate with little effort and little cost.
About an hour from Hope Mills is the quiet town of Cameron NC….population 323. Just a little over one square mile…the town was established because of its proximity to the Raleigh and Augusta Railroad. Turpentine distilleries were established, then hotels and restaurants. When the turpentine distilleries closed, the town nearly disappeared
In 1999, Cameron native David Ellis was the darling of the New York City art scene. He asked friends from the art community to travel back to Cameron with him and together they spent an entire summer painting murals on the sides of old barns and houses. Nicknamed the ‘Barnstormer Murals’ these small bits of art put Cameron back on the map. Today, it’s a tourist attraction mentioned on some of the most viewed travel websites in the country (link, link, link) and when you search Google for these murals you get over 17,000 hits!
We visited Cameron last month and spoke to some of the locals. Their Main Street is really no more than a four-way corner with some antique shops and a convenience store near the railroad tracks, but every business there keeps a hand drawn map of the murals by the cash register. The owner of the antique store we stopped at said she gets at least one car load of people a day asking for the map. 4 people times 365 days a year means they’re still bringing in at least 1500 tourist a year, and she said there are many more on weekends and in the summer.
A new U.S. government survey released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates that in 2015, the last year they’ve gathered stats for, art contributed over $763 billion dollars to the US economy…more than agriculture or transportation. 4.9 million Americans work in the art sector and collectively earn more than $370 billion dollars. It’s not just a viable industry, it’s a growing thriving industry and one we could easily be a part of.
In 2018 North Carolina Main Street recognized Sanford NC for their efforts to incorporate art into the community by awarding them Best Outdoor Space Improvement for a series of murals. In 2014 the Sanford Appearance Commission began exploring the idea of establishing a mural trail in their historic district. With grants and private donations they raised $84,000 to pay for historically appropriate murals depicting Sanford’s past.
Creative place making is a growing theme in many communities. Community leaders don’t suggest you forgo galleries and museums, but create alternative artistic venues, to bring art into the community where we live and recreate. “It’s the intentional and integrated use of arts and cultural strategies to achieve place based, community development outcomes.” ArtPlace
“Mine local art & cultural assets: Understand what jewels exist in the community. Creative placemaking works best when it is used to amplify local community assets, fostering a sense of pride. Learn about the community’s history and aspirations. Engage local artists: Find and recruit artists in the local community, including visual artists, performing artists, poets, writers, musicians, designers, chefs, and other creative types. Engaging local artists will help build buy-in. It is hoped there will be no need to find talent elsewhere.” (link)
Art adds extrinsic value to a community
By elevating a community’s worth you instill a greater sense of civic pride. But in our case, art can serve a greater purpose…
We’ve been a town without a viable industry for more than a century, a bedroom community serving Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. For decades, our civic leaders plundered through without a long-term plan and allowed developers to annex and develop property at will. The promise of commercial property taxes outweighed any sense of purpose. But we’ve reached a breaking point. Our population growth has superseded our ability to provide basic infrastructure. We teeter on the brink of increased taxes year after year with no solution in sight.
In the last 15 months the board has approved mass spending
$24k annually for pay raises and benefits
$25 for an engineer to design a turn lane into the golf course (this number will increase)
$25k for an investigation into themselves
$87k for the comprehensive master plan of parks and recreation land
nearly half a million dollars for the new bulkhead
8-9 million for the new public safety building
These all have one thing in common…no return on investment.
During Monday night’s meeting, Community Development Planner Chancer McLaughlin addressed the board and asked for a letter of approval to include with a grant request. It wasn’t needed, it simply added weight to the request and the local Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis provided letters. Mclaughlin laid out the request in the simplest of terms, the grant is for $10k, it’s a matching grant but the staff have deployed a sponsor program which will provide the $10k the town needs without requiring they dip into the municipal budget, the money will be spent on a long-term arts program which includes juried art shows for local youth, a series of farmer’s markets and a white table dinner to bring attention to local farmers. Slam dunk right?
The Board should have responded with a giant THANK YOU. Our staff is innovative and forward thinking. But instead the Board spent 15 minutes quizzing McLaughlin. They asked over 15 questions, most of which he’d already provided answers to. Commissioner Legge actually said, “I don’t wanna see nothing else come out of Parks and Rec.” The money isn’t coming out of the Parks and Recreation budget, but would it be so bad if it did? Does it make more sense to sink $10k into outdated youth sports programs than into promoting local farmers, the arts, hosting a year of events and end it all with an elegant dinner?
The point, is the majority of our Board of Commissioners are simply incapable of forward thinking. They micromanage the staff and insist on maintaining an iron grasp on every activity and every dollar, while fecklessly voting to spend millions of dollars we don’t have on ill-conceived programs with little or no return on the investment.
We need innovators. We need forward thinking leaders with a firm grasp on finances and we need commisioners who are willing to trust the staff to do their jobs.
We need a new Board of Commissioners!