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Chris Graham: Inspiring the next generation in Waynesboro

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The Wayne Theatre is in the very early stages of expanding its footprint in Downtown Waynesboro to build on its educational component.

A Center for the Arts is in the works that would be a lifeline for kids here, something for them to build on as they try to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

As a native, I know all too well the challenges of growing up in small-town Waynesboro, and I at least grew up here when the GE and DuPont plants employed thousands.

They’re both gone now. The jobs of today, and likely of tomorrow, here are in retail, fast food, warehouses, delivering packages.

Nothing wrong with those ways of making a living if you’re in one of those jobs, but you didn’t grow up dreaming of getting there, you just ended up there.

The kids in upper-middle-class families certainly aren’t hindered in that respect. As a former poor kid who grew up in a trailer park, I’m envious of the children of friends who are professionals in their own right, and how their kids, by osmosis, come up thinking big, that they want to follow in mom’s or dad’s footsteps, to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, developer, scientist, whatever.

I had to conjure those aspirations up for myself.

The one thing I had working for me as the gifted and talented program in elementary school that exposed me to the arts.

I remember field trips to museums in Richmond, plays and musicals in D.C., that I never would have been able to experience in those crucial years in my development.

I didn’t end up going into the arts, technically speaking, even though I work in the creative fields of journalism and broadcasting, so, arts-adjacent, but I know for sure that the reason I wanted to do what I get to do now is because of the new-to-me world of fine arts that I was exposed to as a youngster.

Back to the present day, we have the Wayne Theatre, which has among its niches a budding program for the arts for local youths that the folks there are trying to build on.

It’s going to take some money – OK, a lot of money – and some time and patience, but we can get there.

Remember, it took us 16 years to get the theatre open, and it’s doing well – well enough to have survived the pandemic, for one.

I remained in Waynesboro after college because I wanted to be part of whatever effort there would eventually be undertaken here to open up more opportunities for more kids like the me that grew up here.

For every me that grew up poor and made it, there are multiples just as talented who weren’t able to, not because of much else other than not having been inspired to see what more they could become.

A Center for the Arts will surely produce kids who end up making careers in the arts – musicians, actors, writers, arts production professionals.

Which is all well and good.

I’m remembering one friend who told me recently that his two daughters studied music in college, and one ended up in music education; the other is a veterinarian.

The arts aren’t just for the artists; the arts inspire us to be our best selves.

I recently came across a neat story involving the reclusive author Kurt Vonnegut, who answered a letter from a high-school class assigned in 2006 to ask a famous writer for advice with a missive on the value of the arts:

“Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta: I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula. Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six-line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK? Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.”

OK, one: that’s awesome.

Two: “starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives.”

Waynesboro needs the Wayne Theatre to build on its educational mission.

We need this Center for the Arts.

I’m excited at what it can become, and what Waynesboro can become because of it.

Story by Chris Graham


augusta free press
augusta free press
augusta free press

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