What Is Our Local Culture Worth To You?

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2010 at 6:11 pm

The Black Hills Playhouse has been the topic of some rather lively conversation in circles that I frequent as of late. Should it stay? Should it go? Should it move to, er, Hill City? In my opinion, the real question goes beyond those asked above. It’s this — What is our local culture worth to you?

The trouble with culture as we have come to think of it is that it’s something to support rather than enjoy. We’ve become a society that will do almost anything to show we’re behind a cause. Check out Facebook. I’m sure you’re a fan of something. I am. Oh, and Twitter? Just click the follow button and magically do your part in one fell swoop. Sure, both are relevant means of communication in today’s overcomplicated world. But taking real and tangible action is needed now more than ever. I have a tough time believing that virtual fandom is our only hope for saving the Playhouse.

Fortunately, beyond the reach of Facebook and Twitter, the best cultural endeavors have street cred — some kind of soul rooted in something real and authentic. But cred doesn’t come without a thorough understanding of the nuance of the true believer. Because whatever the cause, true believers are the ones that ultimately define what belongs and what doesn’t.

To this point, I chatted with a traveler this past summer. Obviously, he was stoked about the trip. The weather was darn near perfect. The kids were into bison. His wife enjoyed the winery. It was apparent his family were true creatures of habit. After all, this was the fifth trip in as many years. He went on to explain that when they find something they really like, they stick with it like a Labrador retriever. Over and over and over again. But then he mentioned the Playhouse. The drive. The setting. The fact that you must go out of your way to find it. To him, it was different. Unique. And not one of those charming summery productions you can find anywhere else. He claimed this was the reason they often return.

My point in sharing this story is that there are millions of consumers steadily gravitating towards these kinds of experiences and they are defining trends for many others. Defining authenticity is an exercise in futility. But be assured that is what a lot of people are craving. And for a South Dakota economy so reliant on travelers, this point should not go easily ignored.

So, where do we go from here? It’s fairly obvious the Playhouse is going to have to pass one helluva a sniff test. I wish I could give you a simple answer on how we can save it, but there isn’t one. In all likelihood, the best course of action is to constantly remind people of the many cultural forms we support without blinking an eye.

Schools were once deemed an artsy, avant-garde notion which many believed to be just a novel concept. Yet, today education is one of the most important employment classifications in our country. Or the public library which houses numerous art forms and enriches the lives of many in our community. Have you ever looked at your library card and said, “Gee, I’m just not feeling this place anymore. Wanna tear it down?”

And let’s not forget museums, parks and public golf courses. All cultural activities that in their own way have become public utilities. All of which we support as a matter of course. Many of us feel merit in using them and others don’t feel guilt in choosing not to. Will there ever be a time when we feel the same about the Black Hills Playhouse? Perhaps. But for the time being, a septic tank stands in the way. And yes, sadly, I used “septic tank” in a sentence about culture.

Jason Alley is principal of Message, a full-service marketing & communications firm in Rapid City, South Dakota

  1. There are many levels to the issue of the Black Hills Playhouse; including cultural, economic and, of course political.

    The most troubling is the political. Peel back the onion that is state government in South Dakota and you will find a self-absorbed, tyrant of a governor.

    He appointed a task force to study the Playhouse issue, yet ignored their recommendations. Despite a 60 year history of good faith and fair dealing between the Playhouse and Custer State Park, he has shown none.

    He brags about how many jobs he’s created in the state, yet fails to mention the 60+ Playhouse employees who will be put out of work.

    It’s about ego and hubris. His.

    But, I do take solace in the notion that karma will prevail. I think the greek tragedeans nailed it too. We’ll be waiting and watching.

  2. Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. You are completely accurate in saying this is an issue on so many levels. I took the cultural approach because as an ad guy that is really my lenses. I appreciate you taking the time to show it through yours as well. Best.

  3. I say it’s The Black Hills Playhouse and it should stay where it is. I won’t be voting for this Gov for anything ever again.

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