By Greg Weber
President and CEO
Growing up in rural Indiana, I had no idea one could actually make a living working in the arts. As the eleventh of twelve children, there were no luxuries in our house. Even the toys were scarce. Coloring books – not much. The nearest town was 20 miles away. What we had plenty of was imagination, and a group of kids who are time-rich but cash-poor are an ingenious bunch. We created toys, and stories to go with the toys. Two hay bales stacked on top of each other with a feed sack thrown across the middle became a horse. A loop of twine string draped over the middle, but not to touch the ground, were our stirrups. Sliding a loop of twine string between the bales at one end created the bridle.
Create an identical “horse” to the front and right of the first horse and we were all set to be King Arthur knights jousting. Our lances were sturdy limbs that had fallen out of the Ash tree in the back yard. This game lasted hours. Others would join in as Merlin the Magician, casting spells out of fine chaff picked up off the floor. If any of the chaff particles hit a knight, then we were frozen for ten seconds or knocked off our horse. Our eyes saw what we did not have – our imagination created everything we needed.
I should not have made it out of rural Indiana. At that time the Indiana education system was one of the lowest-ranked in the country. My high school was not an exemplary educational resource. But my imagination did not see these hurdles, my imagination saw mountains. Beautiful, rugged mountains and I was so excited to discover what was on the other side. It was a series of mountain ranges – the “Will a university accept me?” range, adjacent to the “How will I pay for college?”, both overshadowed by the majestic “Am I smart enough?” mountain peak.
Walking down the street on my first night in Fayetteville, I thought about those bales of hay as horses. When I look at downtown or any part of Fayetteville, I see beauty. I see what we can become. My imagination is my art. My imagination paints, it sings, dances, and it has continually created a better world around me. My imagination builds Fayetteville – and I have already built a city where people are flocking to live – one where my children and grandchildren want to watch me grow old. The arts are our fitness center for our imagination. Exercise your imagination. You too will then see the beauty, the magnificence, and the unending potential surrounding each of us. This is why I need the arts.