The contrast was remarkable.
The first facility was top notch. New seats with the team logo on the cushions. Bright, cheery lighting. Shiny new paint on the walls. Freshly varnished floors. Fancy mats at each end of the gymnasium, in team colors and with the team logo. Beautiful glass backboards, with rope lighting embedded to signal the end of the quarter. This was a much loved facility. The entire business community was represented in sponsorship notifications on the floor, the walls, the seats.
The other facility was much neglected. In itís day, it would have been state of the art. But that day had come and gone. The lighting was dark, almost too dark to see. The walls, dirty brown, had not seen a paintbrush in years. The chairs were adequate, but outdated, with upholstery that dated from the Nixon administration. The front curtains were stained with age. The back curtains had holes torn in them. The lighting equipment was beyond outdated; it was almost non-functional, held together with electrical tape and prayers. This was a facility in decline. Whatever love had built this had long since moved on to other endeavors.
But this is not the story of two different communities. This is the same community. It is the same building.
This past weekend I attended a basketball tournament at Wheatland High School. Wow. That gym sparkles. The team sits on padded chairs. The backboards are streak free. The floors gleam so much, you can see your own reflection.
Right after the game I walked across the hall to the auditorium where the dance school was rehearsing for their recital. It was a different world. The walls are badly in need of a fresh coat of paint. The chairs are serviceable, but not in good shape. The front stage curtain is long past itís retirement date. The back curtains are falling apart. The stage floor is in sorry shape. The spotlight barely turns on; it should be discarded, but it is all they have. The lighting board is missing keys, and when turned all the way up, will occasionally buzz while the lights all dim. Only a third of the dimmers are even functional. The actual lighting instruments are a joke. Each year a few more succumb to age. At this point, not all of the stage can be lit properly; there are always dark spots.
Another decade of neglect may close it by default. But those who use it are afraid to even ask how much repairs would cost. Afraid that doing so would close the facility for good. Those who are involved in the performing arts do not want to lose what little they have. This is the only indoor performing arts facility in town. Dance recitals, concerts, plays: they all rely on it. Preforming arts specials occasionally come through town; they use it as well. Not because it shows our community in a good light, but because there are no other options.
The performing arts are more than just a few quirky people putting on plays. Art ennobles us. It gives expression to deep human emotions. Music, theatre, and dance speak not just to the body, but to the human spirit. They communicate important truths about who we are, and who we aspire to be. Sports heroes come and go. But we perform works that have existed for hundreds, and sometimes thousands of years. These are works not just by the masters of their craft, but from some of the best and brightest minds in history.
It is hard to do that when the facility is beyond shabby, and moving quickly toward dangerous. Our community needs to come together to do some rehab work. It will likely be a long time before it is done again, so we need to do it right: no half measures. It wonít be cheap. But it will be worthwhile. And who knows. If the auditorium is made useful again, maybe more people will use it. Maybe more in our community will see that the arts are important, and new opportunities Ė drama, music, dance Ė will arise. Letís do it before itís too late.