When did you last visit one of our galleries?

Published 2:56 pm Sunday, September 3, 2017


According to the Rural Policy Research Institute, rural residents receive less than 5 percent of national philanthropic funding, and significantly less federal community and economic development support than urban places. Therefore, rural regions receive far less support than urban areas for community development­ — inclusive of the arts.

RUPRI’s research also shows that absent a community’s ability to attract the next generation of citizens to raise a family there, it will eventually wither away. Although phrases like “food desert” have become popular to describe parts of the country void of healthful food, one must ask if, in fact, we are creating an “art desert,” devoid of art and community fostering creative thinking? If so, what we can do about it?

It’s no secret available jobs are a contributing factor in attracting young families who will stay in our community. But we also know these families are seeking a place diverse, inclusive and dynamic, with opportunities for personal expression and community engagement.

An example is a young couple in their twenties who recently relocated to this area and moved to our side of West Main street — some of the youngest folks in town amongst some of Washington’s oldest families. The husband found a great job in Greenville, the wife one in Washington; but they chose to buy their home and take residence in Washington. Why?

Because Washington, like many parts of rural America, is undergoing a profound economic restructuring, and turned to its cultural and arts assets, among others, as sources of new economic development and a hook for retaining and recruiting young talent.

Constant disagreements remain at the federal and state level regarding funding of the arts. We must ask ourselves where we stand on the local level. We have the ability to directly impact problems ailing us. How we spend our money to support artists and their craft directly impacts the future health of our town.

In addition to prized establishments like Arts of the Pamlico’s buzzing Turnage Theatre and the North Carolina Estuarium, Washington is blessed to have more than six standalone galleries in the Harbor District and numerous other shops featuring amazing art.

They offer more than perfect gifts for friends and family, something unique to reflect one’s own personality and tastes, or the ideal way for newlyweds or new homeowners to collaborate on design and space. They offer far broader goals and solutions to our current and future economic development challenges.

John Butler is chief operations officer of WHDA and co-owner of Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast Inn and the Belle of Washington.