A few days before the article came out in the Rappahannock News, my old friend Peter Dunning called to tell me Bluemont Concert Series was closing down after 41 years and almost 10,000 community concerts and performances in schools and nursing homes.
I lived in Bluemont in the early 70’s and would put on some concerts in the local school house — a small vision that brought that town together.
Peter had a big vision, the Bluemont Concert Series, bringing over 30 communities together. Warrenton, Culpeper, Leesburg, and Winchester were among the 34 localities that had the gift of their events.
My bands, Trapezoid and later A Thousand Questions, as well as Three Good Reasons, must have performed in at least 70 concerts over the years. They were the kind of concerts that pull everyone together — picnics on the courthouse lawn with great music, an evening with friends and neighbors celebrating the arts.
Through Bluemont and through the work of my late wife, Julie Portman, I learned that one of the primary functions of the arts is to build community. Bluemont built community — the real kind — the face to face community not the ersatz on-line community of faceless Facebook or AOL.
Now, more than ever, we need that glue to connect us despite all the forces that seem to be pulling us apart both locally and nationally.
We’ve lost so much culturally here in the last few years — the State Theatre, the Castleton Festival (though they are still presenting wonderful concerts in the Theatre House and as reported by this newspaper late last month the Festival has a new partnership with Vanderbilt University), and now Bluemont.
It’s always been a challenge to maintain quality, professional arts in rural areas. But it’s gotten so much more difficult over the last 10 years as government support has evaporated.
Bluemont noted that their state and local government support has shrunk during that period by over 75 percent, and I can verify a similar experience in our funding for Kid Pan Alley. In Virginia, per capita funding for the arts is 41 cents, putting us near the bottom in state rankings in a country that spends about 1/40th of what other developed economies allocate.
We do have a different funding model in America. One that depends on contributed support — the generosity of our friends and neighbors. That generosity is especially evident during the Give Local Piedmont event on May 1st. That’s where you can really make a difference for over 150 organizations of all kinds in Rappahannock, Fauquier, Culpeper, and Madison counties.
This year you can schedule your donations beginning on April 17th at www.GiveLocalPiedmont.org.
The writer is the founder of Kid Pan Alley, a nonprofit organization based in Little Washington that inspires and empowers children to work together to create their own music and to rekindle creativity as a core value in education.