Social Innovation & the Arts

crooked roadI’ve recently joined a team of scholars and faculty who organize Community Voices, and in preparation for next week’s discussion, I’ve learned a great deal about The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail.  Jack Hinshelwood, executive director, and a team of innovative civic leaders conceived the idea in January 2003 to generate economic development and tourism in Southwest Virginia by highlighting the unique “musical heritage” of Appalachia.  The project now includes ten counties, three cities, ten towns, five regional planning districts, four state agencies, two tourism organizations, and a large number of music venues. A steering committee with representation from these entities meets on a monthly basis to make decisions and implement policy in order to achieve their mission: Supporting economic development by promoting Heritage Tourism and Blue Ridge and Appalachian culture. 

The Crooked Road’s website notes:

Although the trail is focused on the uniqueness and vitality of this region’s heritage music, it also includes outdoor recreational activities, museums, crafts, and historic and cultural programs. Efforts to develop and promote “The Crooked Road” include production of a travel guide, website, and CD for trail visitors; production of audio CDs featuring musicians from the area; and highway pull-offs with radio transmitters and additional written information along the trail route.

This collaboration seems to speak directly to the importance and value of community involvement and social entrepreneurship in creating social change.  Additionally, there’s a great deal of research that suggests the arts serve as a bridge for building social capital.  Better Together states:

The arts can serve as a powerful spur to civic dialogue. An especially moving, shocking, insightful, or original work might compel us to discuss social, spiritual, or political

issues with friends and family members… Participation in the arts also strengthens democratic institutions. A major study of Italian regional government found a startlingly strong relationship between the number of local choral societies and the effectiveness of government institutions.4 The implication is not that singing per se improves mail delivery, but rather that “communities that sing together” (literally and metaphorically) better achieve the government they desire. In recent years, mounting evidence shows that arts programs improve the challenging work facing government agencies, whether it is keeping

kids healthy and safe, preventing crime, or beautifying dilapidated neighborhoods.

Let’s celebrate the arts, community involvement, partnerships with government and social innovation.  Join me to hear Jack this Thursday at the Lyric and enjoy this preview of the talent and beauty of Southwest Virginia’s musical heritage and all the good it does:

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