Friday, January 08, 2010

Reasons to Like Small Town

My small town takes a lot of guff for being backwoods or closed-minded or a little redneckish. I’ve even heard people say that, after moving away and returning for a visit, it feels claustrophobic. Maybe that’s because it’s in a valley, or maybe that’s because the landscape rarely seems to change. We’re getting an exit ramp onto the interstate on the north end of town, so there is construction going on, and an occasional gas station will close and leave its empty shell to make the place look like it's slowly dying, but that’s about it.

Or so one might think if one were not to dig a little deeper.

Our local branch of Kent State University is building a performing arts center, one the entire community can use, not just the students. Earlier this week I got to sit down with the general manager for a newspaper story, and he walked me through the floor plans. The man was as excited as he could be. He went on and on about how huge the rehearsal room was and how it was designed to mirror the stage so that an orchestra could simply move itself from one space to another without reconfiguring. The place will have a new Steinway piano kept in its own climate-control storage room. The flyspace above the stage will accommodate just about any road show. Dressing rooms are large. Women’s restrooms are bigger than men’s. People can rent the lobbies and use the catering kitchen for special events. Every seat in the house will be a good seat.

After I left the interview, I felt good about living here, not that I felt that bad about it before, but sometimes the place can wear on a person. And then I got a call from a woman who helped me with a story about the library.

Ohio is in a financial pinch, or more like a vice. To help ease the budget, the governor has cut funds to libraries; and now the places, already tight-reined, are firing employees, cutting hours, canceling services, closing satellite branches. This woman told me all about her little four-year-old daughter, a porcelain-skinned redhead with a passion for dinosaurs, and how much she likes trips to the library. She knows the names of the fish in the tank and has a favorite book, Dinosaur Days. She cries when she has to return the book and begs to check it out again and again. I told her story in last week’s newspaper as an example of how important local libraries are to their patrons, and now two people from this often-disparaged town have bought new copies of Dinosaur Days for the girl so she can have her own to keep. She is so excited, she gave one to the library and kept one for herself. And she takes it to preschool with her, tucked away in her little backpack.

It makes me a little proud to know that even though there are some pinheads around here, this is not such a bad place to live. And if you look closely, even the landscape is changing for the better.


kyle@sift said...

I just received a survey asking what types of shows, music, art, etc. I would like to see at this new performing arts center.
As wonderful as it seems, the residents of small town don't support the venues we currently have. Local art centers, theaters, museums and orchestras are financially strapped with little relief in sight. I can't imagine who will be able to afford any shows at this new place unless they offer monster truck shows, wrestling and beer.
Just going to a movie costs a fortune.
Most members of our community are not lucky enough to have the resources to go out on the town, as it were. They're lucky just to get their bills paid and a meal on the table.
I have run a non-profit arts organization since 2004 and I can tell you, this community DOES NOT support the arts.
We'll have to wait and see if they are willing to pay $80 to see Peabo Bryson or Brad Paisley.

dive said...

I do hope it's a success, Robyn. I find that over here the people I see most often at concerts and plays are usually other musicians and actors, but one thing that most of the other people I meet have in common is that they live without TV. I long ago made the decision that having a life was more fun than sitting around in front of the idiot box and I've never regretted it.

As with the choice of spending more on a little good quality food rather than a lot of junk food, I find I can just about afford to see plays and live music if I spend a little less on less important things, and that my life is immeasurably richer for it, so yay to your new arts centre.
Mercifully, we don't have monster trucks over here to tempt me away from the opera (dang).

The library story brought a tear to my old and jaundiced eye. Lovely.

MmeBenaut said...

What a beautiful story Robyn. Having a porcelain skinned redhead (with curls) three year old grandson (William), who is into rockets and astronauts, I can identify with this heartwarming gesture by smalltown.
I too live in a Valley which is one of our city's best kept secrets; sometimes it looks like it is dying too and then the council will build a new bridge over the creek and paving and a roundabout and we all feel brand new again!

Lynn said...

That's so sweet, Robyn. I'm very glad the little girl had the book bought for her. Librairies are fabulous places, but she loves it so much, she will want to look back at that book in many years.

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