And the winner is …

Each year, the Dr. Marketta Laurila Free Speech Award celebrates local folks who’ve taken strong stands on behalf of freedom of speech. Established in 1987, the award honors Dr. Marketta Laurila, a former UNCA instructor who was denied tenure after becoming a vocal opponent of U.S. policy in Central America. Because Dr. Laurila spoke up despite substantial personal risk, one of the criteria for award recipients is that they, too, have defended their own or others’ right of free speech in the face of public condemnation or even threats of violence by those opposed to their ideas, according to the award committee.

The Rev. Joan Marshall of the Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village was honored for her outspoken advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. As the founder of Outfit (a support group for gay youth) and as a member of CLOSER (which provides outreach, education and support to Asheville’s GLBT community), Marshall has been helping to make Asheville a more tolerant place for more than 20 years. And despite anonymous telephone threats, harassment and having been denounced by other pastors, she shows no sign of quitting just yet.

Also in the spotlight are Rachel and Arliss Queen, the founders of the citizens’ watchdog group Taxpayers for Accountable Government. For more than six years, the Queens have worked to open city and county agencies to public scrutiny, helping to make local government more accountable — especially the controversial WNC Regional Air Pollution Control Agency Board, to which Arliss is an appointee. Reached by telephone, Ms. Queen said receiving the free-speech award is a great honor, but that the real rewards in their work are the small victories, won in the hearts and minds of local residents. “The other night,” she reported, “a gentleman came up to me and said, ‘You know, one of the reasons I’m so grateful for TAG … is that you have given me the courage to stand up and ask questions. I never felt comfortable, and I never had the courage to do that before, around elected officials. Seeing you all in action has given me that courage.’ That made us feel very good.”

The committee also recognized Wally Bowen, founder of the local nonprofit Citizens for Media Literacy, with a special award. CML organized the Mountain Area Information Network, a local “electronic town hall” providing, among other things, free Internet access in various public places around town. At a time when public space — both physical and cyber — is rapidly being privatized, Bowen has been a forceful spokesman for opening public dialogue and promoting civic involvement. “The key concept in all of this is that citizens’ speech rights are only protected fully to the extent that they can be protected by the First Amendment — in public spaces,” said Bowen in a recent interview. “It’s important that we make that distinction between public space and private space, because we’ve seen a great loss in public space in this century, particularly with the electronic media.”

The Free Speech Awards will be presented in a special ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Asheville on Saturday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m.

For more information, contact Virginia McCullough at 258-9782, or Clare Hanrahan at 285-0010.

Urban legends

Asheville’s Urban Trail is sprouting new artworks right and left. Last week, a new metal work by Brasstown blacksmith Joe Miller and Greenville artist Jim Barnhill was installed outside the Wachovia Bank building on Patton Avenue, replacing the previous ceramic artwork. Celebrating Elizabeth Blackwell M.D., and featuring a steel bench and bower framing a caduceus and a cameo of the good doctor, the sculpture includes various medicinal vines and tree branches, such as wild yam, ginkgo, sassafras, slippery elm and witch hazel.

Blackwell, of course, was the first woman to be awarded a medical degree in the U.S.; the pioneer physician began her medical studies in Asheville in 1845, at a school located across the street from the monument, where the Drhumor Building now stands. She went on to found both the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and the world’s first four-year medical college for women. Blacksmith Miller, perhaps best known locally for the gates he helped make for the N.C. Arboretum, has been creating art professionally for 16 years; next year, he’ll be teaching at the Penland School of Crafts. Sculptor Barnhill created the much-loved bronze statue of the little girl at the horse-head fountain on the east side of Pack Square. In addition to the Blackwell sculpture, he recently completed an 8-and-a-half-foot angel for the Montoursville, Pa., memorial to the students and chaperones lost in the TWA flight 800 disaster.

But that’s not all: The Urban Trail, which recently saw the installation of Gary Alsum‘s “Appalachian Dancers” in front of the Civic Center, will also be getting a new work by Tucker Cooke and Tekla and Dan Howachyn, to be installed sometime this fall in front of Malaprop’s Bookstore. Celebrating Haywood Street’s reign as WNC’s premier shopping area from the 1930s to the ’50s, the wrought-iron sculpture depicts stylized women shoppers on a mission to visit every store on Haywood.

The Urban Trail — a self-guided, downtown walking tour that uses art to celebrate Asheville’s history — is part of an ongoing effort by the city to honor local artists while developing a downtown walking mall. Called a “museum without walls,” the trail has been designed by volunteers and built with donations from individuals, groups and organizations.

For more information, contact Urban Trail Coordinator Hojun Welker at 259-5855.

Service in the sky

Some months back, Asheville Regional Airport Director Mike Armour waxed eloquently about his plans to expand airport services at a sustainable pace. Now, those plans are starting to take shape. Last month, the Asheville Regional Airport Authority launched a regional-development campaign that will include holding discussions with other airlines that might serve WNC, as well as reaching out to local and regional business leaders for help.

“The Airport Authority is happy to lead the way in air-service development,” said Airport Authority Chairman Robert E. Turner in a prepared statement. “However, we need the partnership of regional businesses as we go forward.” At the request of airlines that could offer scheduled flights to additional destinations, the Airport Authority is asking businesses to endorse the campaign and to help collect data on corporate-travel patterns. So far, the campaign has been backed by AdvantageWest, the Buncombe County Economic Development Commission, the Greater Henderson County Economic Development Commission, and the Asheville Area, Greater Hendersonville, McDowell and Polk County chambers of commerce.

In a recent briefing of regional business leaders, Bill Rathert, vice president of the Kiehl Hendrickson Group, a Minnesota-based aviation consulting firm hired by the Airport Authority, gave an overview of the air-service development process and stressed the importance of community involvement. “We’re excited to kick off this campaign,” said Rathbert, “and are looking forward to working with both incumbent carriers as well as others that have indicated an interest in getting to know the WNC market better.”

To learn more, call Kathryn Solee at 694-2226, ext. 152.

A culture of compassion

Wasn’t it Gandhi who said that one can judge a culture’s greatness by its treatment of animals? It’s a noble sentiment — and, in that spirit, the Humane Society of Buncombe County is sponsoring a series of educational seminars to help educate local residents about the valuable place animals have in our lives.

The lectures will address such topics as: solving behavioral problems, how to choose the most suitable pet — for you and the animal, preventive pet medicine, pet bereavement, and even including your pet in your will. The first seminar, “Using Alternative Healing Methods for Animal Care,” will be presented on Saturday, Sept. 25 at WNC Aquarium Imports & Pet Supply on Hendersonville Road. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m.; after a short continental breakfast, assorted speakers (including Dr. Laurel Davis, DVM, Dr. John Faherty and Christine Nillson) will discuss holistic treatments for animals.

The cost for the seminar and continental breakfast is $30; all proceeds will benefit the Humane Society’s Events and Resources Center.

To learn more, or to make reservations, call 254-9155.

— clewingly compiled by Paul Schattel

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