Soccer ruled Chesterfield’s turf over the weekend and it will again this weekend as soccer teams from all around, converge on our county for some exciting rounds of footy. A million dollars could grace county coffers by way of hotel rooms, restaurants and ace bandage shops. Most won’t even realize the players are here unless they go to just about any park that has a soccer field and then the full breadth of the event can be imagined.
Sporting tournaments, such as soccer and the Pony Baseball World Series, have become a highlight of tourism for Chesterfield and the county has gotten so excited over these events that they have made a significant investment in SportsQuest, which with the help of the county and Federal stimulus funds, will theoretically become a considerable source of tourism dollars.
What I find odd about Chesterfield’s investment in SportQuest is that it is a concept that sort of rolled into town like a gypsy carnival that drove tent stakes and never left. Not that it’s a bad thing. SportQuest is getting a lot of press and things are happening out there: groundbreakings, team announcements, cash in from Chesterfield, association games moving there, complaints that association games are moving there, and dreams of Olympic competition. I truly hope all the dreams for the facility come to fruition – but…
What about other tourism opportunities? What about the resources we drive by every day? Chesterfield has untapped historical treasures dating from 1611 including a plethora of firsts for the county such as the first iron furnace, first incorporated town at Bermuda Hundred, first hospital, first lead mine, coal mine and railroad. Chesterfield is even credited with the invention of Father’s Day.
If someone considers a visit to Chesterfield, they might surf to the county website where they would probably click on “visitors,” and what they would find there, on the first page, is a list of golf courses. Yeah, that’s exactly what we want to promote: our wonderful golf courses. We’re known around the world for our golf courses, right? Yeah, right.
With a little effort you will find Henricus Historical Park, which is a gem in Chesterfield’s crown. The county has invested in Henricus, but how are we promoting it? And, shouldn’t we be working real hard to provide better access that doesn’t include a tour of a working power plant? Where are the Federal stimulus dollars like those invested in SportsQuest? Couldn’t a nice Federal grant have paid for a decent road and bridge to make the entrance more like Colonial Parkway and the nice access roads that Jamestown enjoys?
We could also include a visitor’s center near that new entrance that could also direct visitors to our other historical features such as Civil War forts, entrenchments, Drury’s Bluff and a number of other historic locations where those traveling I-95 might want to visit. I know there are some folks pushing for county enhancements like these, but for those who have the power in the county this type of culture is not a priority.
It’s also not a priority to promote the arts in our county. Can you tell me where in the county there is an example of public art? Can you find another performance venue besides Swift Creek Mill Playhouse? Can you count on more than two fingers the number of art galleries in Chesterfield? Is there a place for entertainment here other than a movie theatre or a beer joint?
What’s at stake is both the negative connotations of a culturally starved community and the missed opportunity of economic development based on our historic resources and cultural environment.
It’s easy to understand how our historic resources could be turned into dollars through economic development, but arts and culture? Consider this: If a Fortune 500 company wants to build their business in a particular locality they look beyond tax credits, access to infrastructure and workforce; they look for lifestyle choices for their employees as well. A well-rounded, culturally informed workforce is a happier, more productive workforce. Are we offering opportunities for culture without traveling (spending gas cash) to Richmond or farther?
Arts and culture has the power to energize our public, arouse our thinking, and transform the places where we live, work, and play into more welcoming and beautiful environments that invite interaction. Art can make strangers talk, children ask questions, and calm a hurried life. It enhances the quality of life by encouraging a heightened sense of place and by introducing people to works of art that can touch them and thereby transfer those sentiments to the next generation so that they too can live culturally informed lives.
Involvement in sports makes the body healthy, involvement in arts and culture makes the mind healthy. A well-rounded individual needs both to be successful and healthy.
And just like an individual, a county of 320,000 people must have both sports opportunities for a healthy public body and arts and culture for a healthy public mind.