Thursday, March 18, 2010

I'm Tired of the Whining

I live in a town in the middle of Kansas with about 50,000 other people. It's a nice enough town - has some good stuff, has some bad stuff, has some average stuff. Probably much like the town where you live.

But Hutchinson, Kansas, has some unusual things, too. We have two world class attractions in this burg that people come from all over the world - literally - to visit - and for good reason.

Something else unusual is that Hutchinson has a very active arts community, that continues to grow. It seems a good percentage of the people I know have an artistic bent - music, art or other endeavors. Every third Thursday of the month there's a downtown gathering with live music and art - all free - and you'd be amazed at what you see and hear.

Hutchinson boasts a world-class golf course, Prairie Dunes. I don't play golf, and don't care much about golf, but people come from all over to play the course. People also come to play softball. Every summer thousands play at the Fun Valley facility. In addition to various sporting events, the annual state fair brings many visitors for the fair and the big name entertainment.

Throughout the year you can attend any number of free arts events, courtesy of the Hutchinson/Reno Arts and Humanities Council. These might include lectures, art exhibits, theatre, concerts, festivals or any number of other things. There's a symphony orchestra, a Theatre Guild, and an art center. There's the state movie palace, the beautifully restored art deco Fox Theatre, which brings in a lot of entertainment, too. The Dillon Lecture series hosts speakers like author Daniel Pink and actor Henry Winkler - the cost is $5.

Recently, a new place opened downtown called "The W." It's an intimate venue with entertainment. You can eat dinner and watch great performers - music and comedy. Also downtown, a local businessman is trying to bring entertainment to Memorial Hall, a venue that hasn't been used extensively in recent years.

In the past eight days I've seen Emmy-award winning comedian Bob Nelson along with comedian Longhorn, who was great; a concert featuring Uncle Kracker, with opening act Rehab, with Scott Allan Knost from Wichita prior to them; seen artwork from six different artists; listened to Raging Sea, a Celtic Band and the Gazaway Mountain Boys, a bluegrass band; and attended a lecture by a doctor who just returned from helping victims in Haiti. This list doesn't include the lecture by the NBC News Space Consultant I heard this morning in my own workplace, but which was open to the public for free. The grand total for all of this entertainment was $15.

If I were a sports fan I could be taking advantage of the National Junior College Athletic Association basketball tournament being played in town. Or I could have visited our zoo with a nice collection of native animals - it's free. If I were a golfer I could have played the public course in Carey Park, or just enjoyed it or one of the other parks in town during this first taste of spring. I might have also walked or biked one of the trails, or hiked at Dillon Nature Center, which is a treasure. Those are free, too, in case you were wondering.

Many times I have to decide what I'm going to do on any given evening because there are at least a couple of things happening I'd like to attend. So, you'd think that would be the case for everyone in town, right?

Well, unfortunately, you'd be wrong. Because while some of us are out doing, others are sitting around complaining there's nothing to do. I am continually shocked how we can all be living in the same town and perceive it so differently. What is it that people want?

Admittedly, a community of 50,000 is not likely to attract entertainment like Billy Joel/Elton John's Face to Face Tour. Friends and I drove the 45 minutes to Wichita to see them a couple of weeks ago. Even if you lived in a major city, you could easily spend more time than that getting to a concert venue. So, there's access to that, even though it's not in our town.

I am growing suspicious that people simply want to complain. It's easy to sit back and whine after the fact that things weren't exactly as you wanted them to be. Why not, just this once, participate in something and maybe get a feel for how complex it is to create such events? Consider that someone is taking a risk to give you the option of seeing art or hearing a lecture or listening to music - it may be financial or time or energy or pride they're risking - and it's most likely all of them.

I'm not a native, I'm not a member of the chamber of commerce, I'm not even a "booster" of the community. I'm just putting out the facts. I'm fed up with the whining and complaining that there's nothing to do in Hutchinson. There's more to do than I can manage to do in the average week. Even though we may not have the same tastes, I think my fellow residents, with the slightest bit of effort on their parts, could find things that appeal to them.

And effort is the key. Do people knock on my door to tell me about cool things I might want to attend? No. They do not. I regularly check online calendars and sign up for newsletters that tell me what's happening. I connect with people and organizations through Facebook and other sources that let me know what's going on. None of these things costs anything, and they're available to most folks. If you don't have a computer at home the local library has free computers you can use - and free classes to teach you how to use them if you don't know.

I'm tired of the whining. Devote that energy to participating in the community - maybe even creating something yourself. You might see it differently from the other side.

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