Last week, I wrote about mapping your family’s creative genome, searching through your family heritage to find the creative treasures hidden within the everyday lives of people you thought you knew. My premise is simple: even the most mundane of families can hide a treasure trove of creative strengths, but those subtle strengths can only be found when we intentionally seek them out. The same can be said of the cultures and places where we spend our lives.
Towns, cultures, and regions all have unique creative deposits within them. As Emily described it on Thursday, these deposits “flavor” our lives and affect our worldviews. For some of us, these cultural creative treasures may be overt, like living amongst the blues music in Memphis or experiencing the technicolor vibrancy of Miami’s many subcultures. It’s easy to mine creative treasures from places where creativity and the arts are valued and supported, but what do you do when you live in a place with less obvious cultural deposits? The reality for most of us is that life in a cultural mecca is the exception, not the rule.
I went to college in the rule, or so I thought. My alma mater was nestled just outside the mountains of East Tennessee, in the tiny town of Jefferson City. With the Smokies to the south and the Blue Ridge to the east, Jeff City was long landscapes but short on art scenes. The campus made up at least a third of the town’s population, yet the presence of so many young people did little to liven the local atmosphere. It was sleepy when school was in session, and borderline comatose during breaks. The nightlife (if you could call it that) consisted of keg parties at the wrestlers' house and staying out all night at the local TVA lake.
Based on that description, you may be shocked to find that not only did I complete four years there, but I enjoyed the process. See, I discovered a truth that many often miss when they look about them: a place’s outward appearance is often a poor reflection of its inner creative treasures. Underneath the podunk-y exterior of East Tennessee hill country, I discovered a cultural heart that beat with its own unique creative rhythms, counting time for an artistic legacy that existed long before my twenty-year-old soul ever heard the first notes. No, this wasn’t the land of the avant garde or the street styled, but it was a land rich with creative treasures.
This was the land of the storyteller, of well-crafted yarns spinning out like spider silks, weaving in and out about you until you’re forever enmeshed in their tales. Those mountains on every side hid folk artisans and craftsmen practicing art forms whose apparent simplicity belied the maker’s true talents. The hills and hollows reverberated with the sounds of pipes and drums and bluegrass fiddles that sang of times that had passed yet lived on in the hearts of the artists. Just like the mountains that hosted them, these creative expressions seemed small from outside yet mesmerized those who explored them deeper.
Now, don’t expect to find bustling galleries or artists’ communes if you should ever visit Jefferson City, Tennessee. You won’t find them. You’ll find a smallish college tucked between the highway and the lake, with a Wal-Mart and a Sonic for entertainment options. Yet, if you look a little deeper, you’ll also find the stories, songs, and mystery that made me love that land as much as I did. I suspect, too, that you would be equally as surprised by what you might find in your own local culture, if you took the time to dig a little deeper. Go beyond the dull facade, and you might just find a creative goldmine hiding beneath your feet.
Sarah is the co-founder of Bright Ideas, a designer by trade, and an artist by passionate choice. She was born and raised in South, and delights in sharing Southern culture with anyone who cares to learn. Sarah collects creative hobbies; when she isn’t making art, you can usually find her on the dance floor. Follow her creative adventures on Instagram and Twitter!