The region’s cultural history and traditions — and their relevance to contemporary life and possibilities — will get a boost via two new grants at a pair of local postsecondary institutions.
Warren Wilson College was recently awarded nearly $950,000 by the Windgate Foundation to expand its craft programming. Meanwhile, Western Carolina University received $88,050 from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation to support expansion of an existing interpretive Cherokee exhibit.
The Windgate grant stands to impact Warren Wilson’s Critical Craft Studies Program by increasing the number of undergraduate craft courses, supporting visiting artists to campus, procuring new equipment and increasing funds for scholarships.
According to Provost Jay Roberts, most of these initiatives will be in place by the start of the fall semester. “Well over 100 students per year will have new and enhanced experiences as a result,” he says. A timely benefit, considering the provost’s assertion that the new school year will likely see the college’s largest incoming class in over five years — roughly 280 new students.
Nevertheless, Roberts maintains the college’s latest plans are about more than getting students to the Swannanoa campus. “[It] speaks to our mission and philosophy as a residential liberal arts school with an emphasis on making the world a more just, equitable and sustainable place,” he says. “We view art as an integral part of this ongoing work.”
Currently, craft work crews already operate on campus completing woodworking, blacksmithing and fiber arts projects. Each of these areas, notes Roberts, stand to gain additional support through the grant.
But most importantly, Roberts emphasizes, the potential impact of the funding exceeds dollar amounts and the number of classes offered. “This is far beyond just making,” he says. “Making is important, but it is fundamentally about how we orient ourselves to our world. Through art and through craft we can make the world a better place by imagining what is possible. It is really one of the things that drives change.”
Center of campus
Farther west, in Jackson County, change is also underway at WCU’s Bardo Arts Center. Since its launch 15 years ago, the center has worked with members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to design an interpretative exhibit in its space. Until now, this meant incorporating bilingual signage and architectural features influenced by Cherokee heritage, says Denise Drury Homewood, the center’s executive director. “In the past, we’ve had information to hand out about what the translations mean, who performed them and what the architectural features mean,” she explains.
The Cherokee Preservation Foundation grant will increase the impact of the exhibit by installing permanent displays to explain the various Cherokee elements on view at the center. The money will also support multiple efforts to promote Cherokee culture as vibrant and contemporary rather than a relic of the region’s past.
The project is slated to be completed in spring 2022 with additional support from WCU’s Cherokee Studies Program and the WCU Cherokee Center. Beyond signage and architecture, the new exhibit will include visiting Cherokee artists and musicians, sharing both their cultural traditions and language.
“The EBCI told us it is important to them for people to see that Cherokee culture is alive and thriving,” says Drury Homewood. “And to be able to hear people both young and old speaking the language.”
And while an emphasis on current Cherokee culture will be prominent, historical elements will be spotlighted as well. For example, a land acknowledgement that explains the university’s location on historical Cherokee land will be on permanent display.
The center’s prime location on campus, notes Drury Homewood, bodes well for the project’s visibility to future students and visitors alike. “This is the final stopping place on every orientation tour,” she points out. “It’s an appropriate place to have this [latest exhibit].”