“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

When I was 17 years old, I went on a recruiting visit to a large university in Ohio – a beautiful campus with rolling hills and a river flowing through the city. Two football players were showing me around the campus, taking time to point out all the usual academic and social landmarks. As we stopped on one edge of the campus, the road dropped steeply toward the golf course, I asked, “What’s that building at the bottom of the hill?” They looked at me, “Forget about it. That’s where all the hippies and freaks hang out. It’s the art center.” It was 1967.

However, I did not forget about it. I enrolled that summer to get a jump on college life and football. My dorm was on the edge of the golf course, in sight of the art center. As it turned out, there was a “Summer Mixer” at the center and a couple of us decided to attend – for the unlimited social opportunities.

To get to the ‘refreshments’ and music which was in the center garden, you had to walk through the gallery. Actually, this was my first time in a real gallery. As we were following the music, a display in one room caught my eye. “Wait a minute guys, I ‘gotta’ check this out. I’ve seen something like this in one of my mother’s magazines.”

I could not believe what was on display. The entire room was part of a traveling exhibition – works by Andy Warhol. Even at 17, I knew who he was by browsing Life and Look magazines in my mother’s beauty shop. Straight before my eyes was his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans. I just stood there, eyes following each horizontal and vertical row. To my right was the most unusual picture of Marilyn Monroe. It was too ‘electric’ to be a photograph, or so I thought, and it was not a watercolor. I was surrounded by so much I did not understand, yet somehow I found it captivating.

A couple students were close, discussing the Monroe work, I asked,” What is that?” They looked at me strangely. And then, a girl by herself walked up, “It’s silk screening. Some of Warhol’s best.” “What is silk screening?” She motioned, “Walk with me so we can get closer. Over here. This is beautiful.” For the longest time, she talked about Warhol, his 32 Campbell Soup Cans and explained the entire silk screening process. Minutes turned into hours.

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That summer evening, something opened inside me. Something I did not fully understand until years later. Art was giving me what I did not know I needed.

I often went back to the gallery to see the many displays – sculpture, pottery, watercolors, oils, and even living art. I often looked for the girl who was so kind, but I never saw her again. I didn’t even know her name. People working the gallery had no idea who I was talking about.

That evening turned into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. Yet, the effect of that evening is still with me today. I have grown as a person. And I am a firm believer that communities which embrace the arts can also grow. Studies have shown that embracing the arts enhances the quality of life in a community by creating personal enjoyment and public involvement. A strong art community also fuels the economy and creates economic development.

I firmly believe the most successful cities, and even small towns, are the ones that have exciting art and cultural offerings – restaurants, music venues, galleries, public art, and more.

public-art-clarksburgPictured Above: Statue and sculpture in downtown Clarksburg. Photos by Michael Lambiotte.

Entire neighborhoods can be revitalized by creatively using abandoned buildings. Open spaces can be turned into community gardens, which not only could provide food, but also a place of beauty and peace. Storefronts can become a work of art, if owners will allow the artists to do what they love – create beauty.

A friend and colleague recently said, “Without restaurants, art, and music, a city will never grow, and eventually die.” And, the quickest way to revitalize a struggling community is: First, make downtown attractive. Create a warm and inviting atmosphere. No one wants to visit, stroll, shop, or live in a gray, dingy and lifeless area. Second, create artistic centers for the visual as well as the performing arts. Third, do whatever is necessary to attract new and diverse restaurants and unique shops. It is an economic given: The arts attract investment. By improving a community’s image, people feel more confident about investing in the community.

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Painting above by Tiera Joy Floyd. www.tierafloyd.com

Many communities today are no different than I was in 1967 – “Art can give you what you did not know you needed.” It can help us communicate ideas and share information. Art can relax and sooth us or it can invigorate and excite. It can also tell our story as individuals, and as a city.

Through pictures, paintings, lithographs, sculptures and public art, we are able to preserve our history, our values, and beliefs. All it takes is some creativity and collective wisdom to develop numerous ways that culture and the arts can be used for community benefit and growth.

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Pictured Above: Artworks in Bridgeport, WV

When I walked into that art gallery in 1967, I knew very little about art. But, because of a chance meeting, my mind was opened and I began to grow. When I visit an art gallery today, my mind is still open and I am still growing. I firmly believe cities will do the same – begin to grow, and continue to grow if they adopt a very simple formula: Create an art-friendly environment. Beautify your city. Involve your citizens. Be creative and open-minded. And finally, cast off the chains of, “We’ve always done it that way.”

Until next time,

Michael

Notes:

Pictures not specifically credited are from and reprinted with the permission of Artworks Custom Framing and Gallery of Art, Bridgeport, West Virginia. www.artworkswv.com. “Like” Artworks on Facebook.

For an inside look into my art world in 1967 and a few opinions, go to http://michaelslambiotte.com and click on “Hello World – The Impact of Art.”