Art matters to Suffolk

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In January, Suffolk’s citizens got introduced to all kinds of art in their community, which is crucial for making sure 2018 is a year of progress.

There was Engage Suffolk, a free and open gathering at the North Suffolk Library loaded with resources from various community organizations. Beside the “human library” volunteers, citizens grabbed strings of different colors for the library’s community art project.

Inspired by Mary Corey March’s “Identity Tapestry,” they wrapped each length around whichever of the nails on the board was labeled with a characteristic that defined them. The end result was an outline of Suffolk itself made from citizen creativity.

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On Jan. 25, the Nansemond-Suffolk Historical Society debuted 31 quilts for an exhibit that will remain open until the end of April. Some of these are being loaned by people connected to the city, and others have been in the society’s boxes for years. One of them even belonged to Dr. Gerard Dawson, one of the namesakes of the society’s headquarters, the Phillips-Dawson house.

The men and women of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts understand the importance of fostering art in the city. The center came out of the structure of Suffolk High School, which closed its doors in 1990 after nearly 70 years of schooling.

In a recent conversation, Executive Director Jackie Cherry explained that the decision to turn the school into the city’s only full-service cultural arts center was partly made to help draw business professionals to the city.

“A lot of major companies are that way,” Cherry said. “They look for opportunities not only for staff but their families. They’re looking for good schools, good culture, places, parks and all sorts of things,” Cherry said.

The 1998 task force appointed to develop a plan for the high school realized the need for cultivating art — that it wasn’t just about entertainment, and that it was just as important as education.

Art is especially important for Suffolk’s developing minds. In 2014, Education Week measured the effects art and cultural experiences had on students across two different studies.

The results were consistent between the two: the cultural experiences enhanced the students’ knowledge of the arts and encouraged them to become “cultural consumers.”

“Exposure to the arts also affects the values of young people, making them more tolerant and empathetic,” according to the study. “We suspect that their awareness of different people, places and ideas through the arts helps them appreciate and accept the differences they find in the broader world.”

Art, it turns out, paints a bright future for us as consumers of culture in an ever-growing city.