Teri Orr: Be bold, little town
April 11, 2014
The conversation, very different from a soliloquy or a rant, I wish I could hear, around the re-construction of a historically valued, pivotal corner in the precious heart of Park City, would involve folks who wanted what was best for our community in the next decade. And the decade beyond that and that again.
Designing for our future means we need to imagine a future beyond any we will see in our lifetimes. And in those dreams, as large as we can dream them, how would that exact corner serve the community, inside and out.
We are a vocal town. That flows in our collective DNA passed down from the hardscrabble miners and Chinese workers who found their way here after helping to build the railroads. And the Welsh, Irish and Slavic peoples who made their way to this strange place in the mountains to mine for silver. Somewhere, in the dust of their dust, float both the survivors and the dreamers.
These were the folks who worked six hard days a week and then celebrated like crazy on their day off. And that town, mostly filled with single men, also knew they needed a place to lift their souls. Beyond building the first Catholic church in the Intermountain West, they raised the money and built the Dewey Opera House. Imagine that for a moment. Those hard working, dirty-most-of-the-time miners, and those who served them, wanted a place to lift them up and introduce them to great talents — like the rock star of the day Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale.
Art mattered that much to their hard lives.
Today we are spoiled by a plethora of opportunities for live performance and visual art. Concerts abound and galleries thrive. And on one corner, across from where the last house of ill repute stood, sits an old livery stable site, where a gas station replaced it and since the mid ’70s, has been a community space where viewing art is free.
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Everything changes. As it should. We evolve and those mountains once covered in evergreen trees that the miners stripped to build the mines and the buildings to support them, are now covered mostly in aspens and skiers. The metal in the mountains has been replaced by the mettle of the people. In the fifties, when the governor wanted to declare Park City a ghost town, about fifty people showed up in his office and asked him, "Do we look like ghosts?"
But there is a difference between preserving history and trying to recreate it. And there should be a wisdom in understanding when to let go of one branch and make the leap for the next.
We have it pretty good here. There are plenty of jobs, safe neighborhoods to live in, fine schools. Enough women for men and vice versa and each other. In fact, we are spoiled by the abundance of land and those things we have built on it. But I fear all that success, all that land of plenty has created a weather pattern when it comes the perfect storm. We are suffering from an inversion of imagination. We don’t appear to want to think out of the box and embrace a triangle or god forbid, a circle, we just want the box. We understand it — it is familiar and safe.
But the dust circling up this time of year, if you really listen, is filled with the whispers of those who went before and worked so hard to create a town where there had been none. And then to preserve the town, when others wanted to make us a footnote in a book.
We are duty-bound, by choosing to live here, to listen and act upon those spirits of creativity and boldness and bravery and grit. Being passive and unimaginative would be disrespectful of those who worked so hard to create this place. Being uninvolved in the future of the community immediately disqualifies you from claiming to be part of the community.
The Kimball Art Center has been trying for years to grow to the future. To preserve that valuable corner asset, and not succumb to real estate pressures to sell it, but rather to create a space that would serve us now, and serve our children’s children in the future. A bold design, at the corner of art and architecture, which speaks to this time and place, and a bit to the next. A place where resident and guest can wander, for free, and enjoy exhibits that lift their spirits. A place to take a class — try your hand at creating art and so can your children and their children. A place where you can sit a spell and have a cup of tea and conversation about the wondrous objects you have seen. A place where the community can gather for discussions — a reception center for major and minor events. A place of light and space enough, to accomplish all this.
If we care about our past, passionately, then we must care about all of it, including the spirit of those original folks. They didn’t want to be stuck in their past or limited in their vision of a future. I suspect they would be pleased we have preserved all that we have from eras past but they would be saddened our spirit of adventure and our creative souls weren’t equally committed to reaching the stars, or at very least, a bold future.
The saddest outcome of all would be to have the folks at the Kimball give up their dream of preserving the iconic, "welcome to Main Street" corner, and go someplace else to build their smart, light — filled, magical space. Simply because we couldn’t agree on the need to change or bend the rules so they reflect the future. If we lack the imagination to try and see past our past, then we have failed those who wanted us to be bold. I don’t know exactly how this story ends but I know more than a single building hangs in the balance. I hear our past whispering, "be bold, little town, be bold." At least that is what I think I hear crashing on the rocks in Kid’s Creek on Sundays in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.