Three years ago a friend of mine left Payson to return to northern California. His reason -- Payson was a town without culture.
I argued with him to stay and become part of the solution.
As recently as a year ago, an editorial in the Roundup decried the de-emphasis of the fine arts in the Rim country. It was triggered by threatened cuts to school music and art programs, the possible demise of the high school drama program, and the elimination of smaller fine arts classes at Gila Community College. When Joe Harless left town with his June Bug Blues Festival, we seemed mired in a fine arts funk.
But today there is evidence that a revival of sorts is underway in the Rim country. Consider the following:
- Gila Community College launched a non-credit program that not only brought back affordable fine arts courses, but is adding new ones on a regular basis.
- Payson residents opened their checkbooks to donate $190,142.72 to the school district through the Credit for Kids program --n 8.5 percent increase over 2002. A good share of Credit for Kids money goes for after-school fine arts programs.
- PHS hired retiring drama teacher John Siler's wife, Kathy, and the school's drama program remained intact.
- The community has enthusiastically taken to KRIM, the town's new FM public radio station with its mix of eclectic and even classical music.
- Poetry on the Patio at GCC has been so well attended that it is now scheduled as a regular bi-monthly event.
- Payson Art League Shows and the Tonto Community Concert series, two Rim country cultural mainstays, continue to play to near full houses.
- The Jazz in AZ concerts at Community Presbyterian Church attract a loyal audience, with close to 200 at one recent concert.
We still have some voids, most notably the lack of a consistent community theater program. And we need to continue to support and grow the fine arts offerings we have.
One opportunity will happen the week of March 14, when Jazz in AZ stages "Jazz Week in Payson" with three free concerts on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday and Friday evenings.
My friend left town because he felt we were missing something every community must have. He agreed with John F. Kennedy -- that the arts are the means by which a community should be measured.
It's too bad he didn't stick around because the Rim country is starting to measure up.