Saturday, October 29, 2005

All That Old Stuff

Yesterday's Watauga Democrat (front page) brought news that the Appalachian Cultural Museum is being forced out of University Hall by Chancellor Ken Peacock to put in his new nursing program. What Frank Ruggiero's article makes clear is that the Chancellor decided to kick the museum out of that space without having any new space for it to move in to.

"Administrators at the museum refused to comment..." Hmmm. But even at this distance we could see the cloud of steam coming out of their ears.

The museum workers have every right to be furious. They've built one of the best regional museums anywhere in the country, dedicated to the history and culture(s) of a region that is the most stereotyped in the country, and yet this museum managed to avoid all the stereotypes, defy expectations, and offer a fresh, original, and invigorating gloss on life in these here mountains. Through donations and generous loans from area families, it managed to amass in short order a huge (and irreplaceable) collection of furniture, musical instruments, self portraits, textiles, tools, folkart, Junior Johnson's race cars ... only a fraction of which is on display in the museum's permanent galleries. The staff has worked tirelessly and effectively with willing volunteers to build a complex of offerings which include traveling and special exhibitions, demonstrations, and guided travel tours to other locales. The Appalachian Cultural Museum is one of our gems, a tremendous asset to the campus, the town, and the county, and it was built on starvation budgets through the sweat and dedication of its director.

Now look at it.

Chancellor Peacock wants that space and like the corporate CEOs he so admires and seeks to emulate, he has delivered a curt eviction notice. "You've got to be out by Christmas. We don't care where you go or how you get there, just GET OUT!" Not only that, the last we heard, he's offered no money for crating, boxing, and otherwise securing the integrity of thousands of priceless objects, nor has he guaranteed any monthly rent money to pay for a storage facility with the thousands of cubic space the collection is going to require.

Everyone on campus and many people in town (everyone except perhaps newspaper reporters) knows what's been going on, the high-handed and callous treatment of our collective cultural heritage by this new university administration, which appears from the Watauga Democrat article to have dropped the problem of finding space for the museum in the lap of community leaders and county officials. How did County Planner Joe Furman get in charge of the mess Ken Peacock created?

What seems likeliest -- and will suit the Chancellor and his henchmen just fine -- is that come December the stuff will get shoved into several tractor-trailers out behind the Broyhill Center, with no heat and humidity controls, not to mention no security, where it will inevitably deteriorate. At which point we sincerely hope that some of the families who graciously gave over family treasures for safe-keeping will sue for breach of contract.

We're sure that Chancellor Peacock's new "Institute for Health and Human Services" will be a fine addition to higher education. But personal empire-building is not so fine when it runs its cleats over something as fragile as our cultural heritage. "I need me an EMPIRE!" and so what if a small, undefended, indigenous population gets wiped out in the process?

The destruction of the Appalachian Cultural Museum is just shoddy practice in the service of personal ambition, and plain low-class.

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