Why This Matters: The arts, sciences and history can provide bridges to cultural experiences that enrich our lives.
By Robert Bush
I was one of the lucky ones. My parents made certain that my sisters and I were exposed to a wide variety of cultural experiences – music, theatre, museums – but they also made sure that we were not afraid of the world and all that it offers. So, they regularly sent us away from home on our own – first with trips to visit aunts, uncles and cousins in towns which seemed so far away at the time (like High Point and Thomasville in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina), and then to week-long church camps. They even let us walk to school, shop along the main street area and go to the movies by ourselves in my hometown of Hickory. But, in June 1969, when I was 16 years old, the biggest adventure of my youth began. My parents put me on an Eastern Airlines flight at the old Charlotte Douglas Airport off Morris Field Drive to spend the next eight weeks living with a family in the historic city of Saltillo, the oldest post-Spanish conquest settlement in northern Mexico.
That total emersion into a different world with a different language, different music, different food, different everything, taught me many lessons and also set me on a path that defines my life to this day. I watched Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon on a big screen set up in the city square of Saltillo with thousands of Mexicans cheering that accomplishment for all of us. A few years later, I ended up majoring in Spanish in college and even taught high school Spanish before making the move to arts administration. The lessons I learned about my Mexican family, their lives and their culture became the foundation for how I approach life.
This blog provides too little space to cover the hundreds of examples from my life of how jumping in with both feet and without fear to experience another culture has taught and continues to teach me daily. I could recount the joy of learning to dance with Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble in Durham; hearing the Japanese drummers lead a festival audience through an exciting performance in Fort Wayne, Ind.; seeing flamenco dancers in Seville; potters from the Catawba Valley tradition opening a ground-hog kiln and pulling out their face jugs and swirl pots; experiencing actors in Belfast telling the harrowing story of life in Chile under Pinochet; and so many more.
Instead, I will focus on two experiences.
In 1988, I was the director of development at The Mint Museum and served as project manager for the Ramessess the Great exhibition – the largest cultural event in the history of this community. Over a four-month timespan in 1988 and 1989, more than 634,000 individuals visited the museum on Randolph Road for the largest exhibition of Egyptian antiquities ever to tour the United States. Many of you share memories of this extraordinary experience with me. But I also had the opportunity to lead a group of Mint members and others on a trip to Egypt, where we visited museums, archeological sites, mosques, churches, ancient temples and tombs, shopped in ancient marketplaces and cruised the Nile. We saw and learned about the lives of Egyptians past and present. It was a joyous sharing of how their culture and beliefs have shaped our culture and beliefs to this day.
More recently, in April 2011, I found myself in deep sadness. My older sister Carol had just passed away without warning. She shared with me this love of the world and of art and learning instilled in us by our parents. And, I was scheduled to lead a trip of ASC donors and others to Cuba. (I admit it had been a “bucket list” trip for me since that summer of ’69.) And so, I set out again, sad and confused this time, on another journey that would change my life.
Travel to Cuba was difficult at that time. That is changing now that the U.S. and Cuba have re-established diplomatic relations. But, I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have experienced Cuba before what I know will be a rapid and dramatic time of change. Yes, we were shocked to see new or restored buildings next to crumbling historic structures.
Yes, we delighted in the vintage 1950 automobiles, a night at the Tropicana, and the artist studios, galleries and museums.
But the highlight was seeing Havana through the eyes of some Cuban-American immigrants who left their home in 1960 and made their first return with us. We saw their joy in reconnecting with the beauty of their homeland and their dynamic culture. We also experienced the warmth of the Cuban people.
What does all of this have to do with ASC and our role in the cultural life of this community? It’s simple actually. Just like my life has been enriched by the bridges provided by the arts, sciences and history of this and many other cultures and countries, ASC works to ensure that our local cultural world reflects the richness and diversity of all who have chosen to make this place their home. ASC is helping build those bridges for all of us to learn more about each other through our cultural lives.