E&H President: Why The Arts Are Important
By Rosalind Reichard | Emory & Henry College President | October 05, 2008Editor's Note: The following speech was presented when Emory & Henry College celebrated the re-opening of Byars Hall, the college's renovated Visual and Performing Arts Building.
I am sure that you know that every building has a story — just ask the people who lived, worked, or played in the building in earlier times, or the people who built it, or those who hope to be served by it in the future.
If you were to talk to the hundreds of people who played a role in bringing this building to its new life, you would hear hundreds of different stories about what happened here ? stories similar to the ones you have heard today.
As you walk through the classrooms, the offices, the studios, the literary society rooms, and galleries of Byars Hall, think about what you are seeing. Think of all of the students, faculty, and staff who have walked along these hallways, studied in the classrooms, slept in the boarding house, read in the library, ate in the dining hall, and debated in the literary society rooms. Think of the people who have come here in the past and will come here in the future for music, art, and theatre. Think of the creativity that will flourish here. Think of the young artists who will find their life's calling here. Think of the artistic breakthroughs that will happen here and that will echo across the region and the world. Think of the inspiration that will happen inside this place. I know I do, when I walk through this building.
This new version of Byars Hall is important for many reasons. It is Emory & Henry's first building constructed according to the guidelines of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building certification process ? so-called LEED certification. Not only is this our first LEED certified building, it is the first LEED certified building in the Tri-Cities region and one of only 4 in the area from Roanoke to Knoxville. A LEED certified building is one that is environmentally responsible and is a healthy place to live and work.
To attain LEED certification, the renovation and addition to Byars Hall was constructed with an intense focus on limiting any negative impact on the environment that might occur. We bought as many products locally as possible to avoid the environmental impact of burning gasoline for the transportation of goods. We used floor tiles, tackable surfaces, and other items that were made out of recycled materials. Interior materials in the old building were reused to avoid buying new ones and having to dispose of the old ones. Energy efficiency, water conservation, and proper storm water management were all a part of the new Byars Hall design.
President John F. Kennedy used the following words in one of his speeches:
"It is our task in our time and in our generation to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours."
This responsibility ? the responsibility to hand down undiminished the natural wealth and beauty which is ours — is not new. But, this responsibility has never been more urgent. We must make sustainable design a part of every building construction project. We can be proud that Byars Hall is an important step in the right direction and that Emory & Henry College is leading the way.
So, Byars Hall is important for its green building design. But, it is at least equally important for the support it provides for the arts. Why are the arts important to Emory & Henry College? I think you know. I think you have observed why firsthand today. But, let me tell you. We are a liberal arts college ? a college that provides a well-rounded education necessary for life-long learning. As our world becomes more complicated, the creative thinking skills that the arts advance are increasingly critical to our society. The arts enhance the ability of our students to think creatively and to contribute to society in new ways.
Artists have always responded to the issues of the day, have always integrated the latest thinking, and have always challenged our perceptions. The arts can help us break out of traditional patterns of thinking and adopt fresh approaches to our challenges. I believe that the arts offer an extended set of skills for learning and understanding that can enhance creative thinking skills.
In addition to the role of the arts in fostering creative thinking, the arts give us a venue for dealing with the complexities and the ambiguities of human existence. The arts help us to build a bridge between diverse cultures and experiences. The arts stir our imagination, provide us with powerful pleasures, incite emotional intensity, and increase human interaction.
This building is important because it helps us to support the arts. But, please keep in mind that this is just one step in our efforts to support the artistic and cultural lives of our students, faculty, staff, and community members. It is right to celebrate the grand opening of Byars Hall. But, our work is not done. We must continue with the next project, the Woodrow W. McGlothlin Center for the Arts. I know we can count on your help.
Yes. Byars Hall is important to Emory & Henry College. It is important to our past and it is important to our future. It is important to our students, faculty, and staff and it is important to the community. It is important to this place; this place in the highlands of southwestern Virginia surrounded by the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. It is important to this place near the farm of Tobias Smyth of Washington County, Virginia. It is important to this place where Colonel William Byars was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. It is important to this special place, this place of promise.
And, now it is my honor and my privilege as president of Emory & Henry College to declare the new Byars Hall officially open ? may it serve us for another 170 years.
— FIND OUT more about Byars Hall.