Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Sea Wind


          summer winds
          over salty seas
          mind awake

                                          ~ CK

Photo: Big Sur on the Central Coast of California by Scott Wright


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Samford University's Harwell G. Davis Library
(Photo by Charles Kinnaird)
I have spent some time recently reflecting upon the value of my own liberal arts education.  Not long ago I wrote as essay in response to an invitation from the editor of my alma mater's Seasons magazine to share some thoughts about the value of liberal arts study at Samford University. Some portions of the essay were quoted in "On the Value of Liberal Arts Education ‘Understanding How Our World Is Put Together’," by William Nunnelley in the Spring 2015 edition of Seasons.

I presented a version of that same essay on AMERICAblog last week, “Looking back on the benefits of a liberal arts education.” I was pleased with the responses I got from people who echoed the values I place on the liberal arts. My college experience was in an incredibly dynamic learning environment. In the essay I talked about the fact that I came from a small town and was a bit na├»ve when I entered college. I held to the provincial views I had grown up with, but was challenged toward a more progressive view of the world by the give and take of the discussions that took place about what we were reading. The remarkable thing was that these discussions did not end in the classroom. The conversation continued in hallways and dorm rooms. Some of my best memories are from discussions that took place around a certain table in the school cafeteria where I sat with some of my college friends. I heard things from professors whose courses I was not even taking, because friends were raising points that this professor of that professor had been taking about. I shared my own views, but also had some views challenged by listening to my peers present their views.
Reid Chapel
Samford University (CK) 

We were at a special time in our lives in which we could examine new ideas and concepts, and we were learning from each other as well as from our professors. It was a wonderful and challenging milieu that helped to turn me toward a more progressive view of life and a different outlook upon the world. As I mentioned in the AMERICAblog post, it was “an outlook that was at once more hopeful than the provincial views I had grown up with and more aware of our past and present social inequities.”

Gleaning the Benefits of "University"

Through the years, in the academic world, liberal arts studies have been in and out of fashion. Schools will focus on technical training, then some study or survey will show that employers really want employees with a liberal arts background because of their versatility, their ability to think on their feet, and their communication skills. School recruiters will then focus on liberal arts again until another career track comes along to lure more students. 

One aspect of "university" is that it is a multidisciplinary community of scholars. A liberal arts curriculum is an excellent way to gain the benefits of that multidisciplinary aspect if education. Last year, in an opinion piece in Forbes Magazine, "Why Getting a Liberal Arts College Education Is Not a Mistake," Jessica Kleiman takes issue with what Lazlo Block, the head of hiring for Google, had to say about the kind of training one should have in preparation for the job market. She states that her liberal arts curriculum, 

"fueled my curiosity, strengthened my critical thinking and writing skills and made me knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. And my internships at a magazine, a PR firm and a record company gave me the practical experience to pursue a career in writing and communications. I didn’t feel I made a “mistake” in choosing that path. In fact, I am now an executive vice president of communications at a media company–so I guess that degree came in handy."

Ms. Kleiman ends her column with some good advice: 

"Do what you love, study what interests you, get good internships, connect with as many people as possible who might help you land a job, be willing to work hard and be resourceful – and you’ll be fine, whether or not you know how to build an app or program a computer."

Questions continue to be raised, however, about the value of the liberal arts curriculum. Just last week America the National Catholic Review (a Jesuit Catholic weekly journal) presented an editorial by Brian Daley in response to the University of Notre Dame considering curriculum revisions that would drop philosophy and theology from its core requirement. Daley makes the argument that theology requirements are foundational to Catholic education and therefore should not be dropped.   

I had already read about the proposed changes in a feature in The Washington Post, “Why Notre Dame’s curriculum review raises far-reaching Catholic identity questions.” The Post article opens with the statement, “As the University of Notre Dame conducts its 10-year review of curriculum standards, a proposal to reconsider requiring students to take theology and philosophy courses is raising concerns that such a change could endanger the institution’s Catholic identity.”

I agree with the premise of Daley's editorial and with the concerns raised in The Washington Post piece, yet to me, it is not just about Catholic identity or Christian mission, it is about the concept of "university." As a liberal arts grad myself, I think it is important for every educated person to be schooled in the intellectual disciplines across the board. If an institution is a university, but its students only specialize in limited disciplines, has the "university" aspect of education in fact become undone? I want doctors, lawyers, businessmen and scientist to at least be exposed to literature, philosophy and theology from reliable academic sources rather than from cable TV and popular media.

The Universtiy of Notre Dame
(America Magazine photo)

*    *    *

A Humorous Post-script

The thing about liberal arts students, especially English majors, perhaps, is that they can wind up working in any number of fields. I happened to gravitate to social services and healthcare. A humorous post-script: One night, not long after I began working night shift as a registered nurse on a heart surgery floor, I was able to aid a patient family member by drawing upon my knowledge as an English major. At around 2:30 in the morning when all was quiet, a young man came up to the nurses’ station with an unusual question: “What was the name of that play where the old king was trying to decide how to divide his inheritance between his daughters?” Who knows what conversations in the patient’s room prompted him to seek out a citation reference?

“That was King Lear, by William Shakespeare” I responded.

“Yes, that’s it! Thanks.” And the young man returned to the patient room where he was visiting.  My young nursing colleagues all turned to me in silence with raised eyebrows.

“What?” I said to them, “You didn’t get that in nursing school?”


Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday Music: Emotionally Yours

Here's another strong Bob Dylan contribution that first appeared on Empire Burlesque (1985). Here the O'Jays offer an excellent R & B version of the song.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Meet Bob Dylan

On the occasion of Bob Dylan's seventy-fourth birthday, here is an interesting "interview" with Bob Dylan filmed in 1986, when he was a young lad of 45.

"Filmed in Bob Dylan's trailer while he was working on the Hollywood movie HEARTS OF FIRE, in which Dylan played a retired rocker called Billy Parker. This clip is part of a BBC 'Omnibus' documentary called 'Getting to Dylan' (1987)"


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Before the Blossoms

just before blossoms
in the quiet springtime air
the heart awakens 

                       ~ CK

Photo: Springtime buds by Malcolm Marler


Friday, May 22, 2015

A Liberal Arts Education

I have been invited to write for AMERICAblog, "a journal of news and opinion about US politics, both domestic and foreign, from a progressive point of view." Yesterday was my first entry, with my essay, "Looking back on the benefits of a liberal arts education." 

It’s been over 30 years since I received my first graduate degree, and I have no regrets about the liberal arts foundation of my higher education. While the question “How can I get the best job?” has encouraged much of higher education to become glorified technical schools, to limit one’s education to employability for employability’s sake is to miss out on what education is supposed to be. What’s more, even in the context of employment, it limits one's opportunities down the road...  

You can read the rest of the essay at

I'll have a bit more about the liberal arts next week.

The iconic bell tower clock atop Samford University's
Harwell G. Davis Library (photo by Charles Kinnaird)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Are We Going to Do?

Pennsylvania Avenue at dusk, by John Hicks (Getty Images)

In yesterday's post, I shared my views of the three things that need to be in place for a society that works. I indicated that there is disagreement as to how we can get there, and I didn't claim to have a solution to the problem of how to get there.

Robert Reich recently posted a video on his Facebook page in which he relates having someone come up to him and ask him, "What are we going to do?" Supposedly, the question had to do with a growing concern over what is happening in the country today. Reich shares some ideas of what we can do to make our system work better, centered around three "moral principles" that he thinks everyone can agree with:
  1. Nobody should be working full time and still be in poverty
  2. Everyone should be able to make the most of their abilities
  3. We should not have a privileged aristocracy
Listen to what Robert Reich has to say, and feel free to add any comments you may have as to where we need to be headed and how we can get there.

Posted by Robert Reich on Friday, May 15, 2015


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hoping for a Country that Works for Everyone

I have friends who really don’t want to have to vote for Hillary for president. They want to vote for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. “Hillary is too centrist,” they say, “She’s just as beholden to corporate America as the Republicans.” With Bernie in the race, they may get their chance to cast that hopeful vote.

I understand where my friends are coming from. We see the middle class being washed away and workers’ rights have been so eroded that we are all in danger of living only to serve the corporation. My take on the political primaries is a bit different, however. When the hype of political campaigns is over, the real test is the effectiveness of elected officials in implementing policies that can make life better for the people. I happen to like both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – a lot. I just think both of them can serve the country better in the senate. That is where they have a better chance of influencing real policy change. 

There is a valid argument, though, for bringing Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders into the Democratic primary. Either one of them can insure that the voices of the people will be heard. Both of them have a proven ability to bring out the real issues of ordinary people being crushed by corporate America. They have the ability to bring hope for the common good into the national debate. Now that Bernie Sanders has declared his candidacy, we are sure to have some more excitement in the primary process, and it is more likely that the issues of ordinary people will be raised.

How Can We Make Things Better?

Whether the talk is about politics, religion, or social change, we often see heated discussions over how we can make things work better. Many are quick to point out the barriers that stand in the way, and who is to blame for what is lacking in our society. As with any presidential campaign, we are hearing various claims about which political candidate can best lead the country to greater things. The latest Rasmussen Poll reveals that 67% of the voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, so clearly, the public wants something better than what we are now seeing. 

When I have discussions with some of my friends about the political scene and what this country needs, I often find that while we have disagreements we generally want the same thing. What we really want is a country that works for everyone. The real question is how to get there. The big issues that come up in the national discussion are often centered on jobs, healthcare, wages, and equal opportunity. From there, the discussion often goes to the question of whether these issues are seen as individual rights. For example, the question of healthcare is often framed in terms of whether it is a right or a privilege. This is the wrong question, and is often laden with hot-button issues. The real question is what is good for society?

Three Things are Needed

I have a short-hand guide that I use to think about what a healthy community needs. There are three basic things that make a society function well. Of course, there are many things that must happen to create a healthy society, but here are three essential things that must happen, things that we are not doing particularly well across the board in our society:
  • Access to healthcare
  • Access to education
  • Access to transportation

Mayo Clinic image
By "access" I mean that one needs to be able to connect with the services that many of us take for granted. Healthcare is one example. Some people have limited access to healthcare because they live in a rural area where services are simply not available. Others may lack access due to economic limitations. We have seen with the Affordable Care Act how many more now have access to the healthcare system due to expanding insurance coverage. Even so, there are still many who continue to have limited access to healthcare. I would rather have seen a single-payer plan put in place, but that's another topic in itself.

Shutterstock photo
Education, a key factor for one’s well-being, should be available and accessible as well. Years ago, even when I was a teenager, I heard that there were those who questioned why taxes should come out of their pocket to support schools when they had no children in public schools. Of course, the short answer is that if we have an educated public, then everyone benefits. If some segments of society are deprived of an education, then we all suffer as a result of that lost potential. Most will agree that education is key to success in life, yet many do not want to invest what is needed to see quality schools for all come to fruition. Look at how many of us move our families to the best school districts, or pay for private school while those who have no other option are left to fend for themselves in failing school systems. The poorest neighborhoods are then lacking in both hope and opportunity due to the lack of funding and support for their schools.

AL.Com photo
Transportation is certainly important for success. It is often taken for granted by the affluent and underfunded by local governments. I will never forget a conversation I had with a young man when I was working in social services. He lived in “the bad part of town,” which was where he could afford to live, and had gotten a job as a dishwasher at a nice restaurant in one of the “good parts of town” that was several miles down the road and a good thirty minute drive in traffic. He was in a jam because the clunker of a car that he used to get himself to work was broken down and he had no way of getting to work. The bus system in town had gone through a series of curtailments because the community had consistently voted down tax measure to support mass transit. First the hours of service were cut, and then the number of routes was cut. The young man I met that day had the good fortune of finding a job, but the misfortune of having work hours that were not served by the limited availability of public transportation. Ironically, the young man’s employer suffered as well when transportation was not readily available for his employee.

If the basic provisions for healthcare, education and transportation are in place for the population, then we can have a workforce healthy enough to contribute to society, educated enough to the job, able to get to work in the first place. At that point, we can realize that the question of whether these things are individual rights or privileges is indeed the wrong question. It becomes obvious that optimal health for all citizens benefits the whole of society. Education for even the poorest communities and adequate mass transit will benefit us all as well. If everyone in every strata of society has access to these three things, we all benefit. Look at any disenfranchised segment of our society, and you will see that one or more of these three elements has been hindered.

Common Good vs. Corporate Greed

We are divided in the United States on how to achieve these big three benefits for society. On the one hand, there are those who say that the only way to achieve the common good is for all to work together in community. On the other hand, there are people who say, “I worked hard for my college degree, my BMW and my Blue Cross coverage. If others want it they should work hard too.” 

In this country we are so afraid that some “undeserving” person may get some relief that we turn our backs on the widespread suffering and poverty that exists right here among us. That is the reason I am re-framing the question from "is it a right or a privilege" to "is it good for society?" For those who cannot stomach supporting those at the fringes of society, maybe they can get on board with a plan that will make a country that works for all of us.

There are some people who are fighting against injustice, and there are indeed others who realize that everyone benefits by living in a society that works to the benefit of all. Too many, however, have been willing to partition themselves off from the needy and the working poor in an effort to not have to deal with the problem.

The trouble in Washington D.C. is that corporations are spending millions on politicians in order to keep their own interests secure with little regard for the common good. Whoever the candidates are in the presidential primaries, both Democratic and Republican, let us hope that the national debate does not lose sight of the common good, and that we continue to raise the questions of how to best serve the whole of society so that everyone benefits. In the final analysis, it is not so much what the politicians are able to do as it is what we the people are willing to do.

                                                                            *    *    *

To hear some suggestions from Robert Reich about some things we can start doing now, go here.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Music: Willie Nelson - Rainbow Connection

The song is written by Paul Williams, was featured on The Muppet Movie (sung by Kermit with his banjo in that opening scene). It all comes together beautifully here with great video montage and Willie Nelson's heart-felt rendition (playing his one-of-a-kind guitar, "Trigger").


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Wild Rose

tomorrow is seen
in the wild rose’s blossom
swaying with the wind


Photo: Japanese Rose (rosa rugosa) by Charles Kinnaird


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Blessing from Nature

Pine Siskin (photo from All about Birds)

"You're goin' to heaven, man -- the way you feed these birds!" my neighbor told me as he was walking past our house one day. I was in the process of refilling some feeders with thistle seed and others with sunflower seed.  My response was, "As long as the birds come, I'm in heaven already!" We've had the usual finches, cardinals, titmice, and sparrows. Lately I've also spotted an indigo bunting and a rose-breasted grosbeak. I haven't had the camera out to catch the bunting or the grosbeak, beautiful though they are, but here are some older photos I've taken of goldfinches and a house finch:

A Moment of Special Visitation

I wrote last autumn about an unusual encounter with a phoebe while on a bird watching expedition. I had a similar blessed encounter in my own back yard last week. We had recently done some rearranging in our yard after taking down a couple of old Leyland cypress trees. There had been a birdbath near those trees that robins, doves and mockingbirds made frequent use of. With the trees gone, we moved the birdbath to the other end of the yard, near an oak (birds like having the protection of a tree nearby when visiting a birdbath). The new spot is also in the proximity of our birdfeeders. I discovered that in its new location we gained a new clientele: the finches and titmice are now visiting that birdbath.

As it happened on that special day, I was outside doing some yard work. While walking past the birdbath, I looked down to see a pine siskin (like the one pictured above) splashing about in the water. At first I was afraid the little bird was hurt since it was making no attempts to fly away when I approached. I stopped and waited to observe some more. The bird appeared to be fine. She (or was it a he?) would splash about, take a drink, splash some more then take another drink. With me standing there beside the birdbath, the little bird look me in the eye then looked straight ahead as if to say, "This is some fine water!" The siskin then hopped up on the edge of the birdbath. I held my finger out to see what he (or was it a she?) would do. The bird sat there calmly. I slowly moved my finger closer, pressing against her (or his) front feathers. Still, the bird sat content on the side of the birdbath. Turning about, the bird took another drink from the water then flew up to the holly bushes where the thistle feeders were.

Part of the Natural Order

There seems to be something in us that longs to make connection with the natural world. Usually we must be content with proximity, but on occasion, a heavenly visitor assures us that we, too, are part of this world of wonder.

Old birdbath, new location


Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday Music: Alabama Shakes (Sound & Color)

Alabama Shakes, another local group making quite a splash in the music industry. Their new album, Sound and Color debuted at number 1 last month. The group was featured recently on CBS Sunday Morning: The Soulful Alabama Shakes.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Mountain Rock


ancient mountain rock
above the forest expanse
sunlight cascading

                           ~ CK


Photo by Joe Ly. A view from Mount Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Image and Likeness

(Why the "New Atheists" Are Late to the Party and Limited in their Outlook)

The Likeness of God

Detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel
It’s a paper tiger that the “new atheists” love to trot out: that image of God as an old man in the sky that they cannot believe in. They are often heard speaking out against the concept of a God sitting in the clouds ready to ready to smite erring humans. While they are justified in discounting that image of God, they are a little late in coming to the party. In reading the biblical authors, we see that there is a long-running attempt to discount that notion within the sacred texts as well. Within the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Christian Bible one can see that people’s concept of God was something that evolved over time. Primitive concepts often gave way to new understandings.

Putting Away the Wrathful God

Moses, as envisioned by Michalangelo
carved in stone like so many commandments
One of the few places in the Bible that presents an actual picture of God as the angry wrathful man up on high, which some mistakenly see as THE biblical view, is when God spoke to Moses at Sinai. The notable thing about that divine encounter is that MOSES QUICKLY CORRECTED THE ALMIGHTY, moving God away from wrath and toward compassion (Exodus 32: 10-14). What escapes many faithful readers as well as critics is that even in the earliest recording of scripture, the human writers of the sacred text saw a need to steer away from the concept of a wrathful God.

A few years ago, I posted a light-hearted commentary on that passage in Exodus (Human Reason Calms an Angry Deity -- with the subtitle, "What to do when God shows his ass"). Rabbi Aaron Alexander, in an article on Huffington Post, refers to commentary from the Babylonian Talmud showing how God needs the human factor. Quoting Rabbi Abbahu:

Were it not that a verse of Torah fully spelled it out, it would never have been possible to make such a [theological statement] statement suggesting God's dependence on a human. The verse teaches that Moses seized the Holy Blessed One, like a person who grabs his friend by the garment. He said to him, 'Lord of the world, I shall not let you go until you forgive and pardon them.' (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berakhot, 32a)

Mythic Understanding

Some of the richest as well as the most grappling religious writings come from the Babylonian rabbinic period. I think this is because they were living in the highest culture of the time and dealing with the devastation of their own culture. It is from that kind of struggle that deep stories emerge. We miss something important when we continue to look at God in literal terms, tying to "get it right." We miss the point that the myths we tell speak very deep truths about our own inner nature. For example, this story of Moses' dialogue with God is reflective that within the human heart, there is an immense wrathful anger that is quite dangerous, but there is also a very strong compassionate quality. Both of these qualities of our own nature have the potential either to wreak havoc or to nurture the common good.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Paul described God as the one "in whom we live and move and have our being." The apostle Paul, who grew up as a Jew in the Hellenistic culture of the Mediterranean world was speaking to Greeks and harking to the wisdom of Greek poets as he attempted to bear witness to the God of the Hebrews. Paul, as he would indicate in some of his letters, had mystical experiences on occasion which shaped his understanding of God within his own Judeo-Hellenistic culture. His is definitely not an anthropomorphic image of a god removed from creation and humankind, but rather one in which the divine is intimately connected to all that we see and experience. He describes a reality that is in us, around us, and enervating our very existence. Paul's vision is certainly a far cry from an old man bonking heads  from on high.

The Stories We Tell

Mircea Eliade wrote about myth and religion. He talked about how human beings apprehend the sacred in the midst of ordinary life by way of ritual and religion. Reading some of his works about ancient myth and religious practices helped me to realize that the ancient peoples were not simple-minded, as we moderns sometimes assume. I stated before that a difference was that "their mode of thinking was mythopoeic while our modern mindset is scientific and analytical." Eliade understood that myth is not falsehood; myth is truth spoken from a mythopoeic mindset  one might even say a poetic mindset.

Meister Eckhart, 13th century mystic, said "That which one says is God, he is not; that which one does not say, he is more truly that." I would concur. There are no words we could conjure that would scale the heights or plumb the depths of the divine. I would add, however, that whatever one says about God (or the devil for that matter) says something very true about the nature of humanity. The stories we tell are ingenious ways of communicating inner truths that we are often blind to when speaking in matter of fact, day-to-day language.

One of the easiest ways to avoid looking inside ourselves to see our own humanity, and to acknowledge who we really are, is to discredit mythic language and sacred speech as falsehoods, or relics of the past.  Carl Jung was a pioneer in showing how our mythic archetypes reveal much about the human psyche. Jean Shinoda Bolen is a psychiatrist and author whom I had the privilege of hearing years ago. Two of her books, Gods in Every Man and Goddesses in Every Woman, draw upon Jungian concepts of inner archetypes to help people understand why we do the things we do, and to learn how to find a sense of wholeness and purpose.

The poet Robert Bly has done similar things in his work with the Mythopoeic Mens’ Movement, and his book, Iron John, which explores the fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection. He affirms the wisdom of ancient story to help modern men to begin to understand why they feel disconnected and how they can make their way back to inner wholeness and connection. Having a poetic mindset, Bly was able to see the wisdom to be found in the ancient stories that emerged from older cultures.

So it is quite alright not to believe in a god who is “the old man up in the sky,” though you are still somewhat behind if that is as far as your disbelief has taken you. There are limitless sacred wonders to apprehend, whether we look outward to the physical world, or inward into the realm of the soul. To gain some insight into who we are and what in the world we are up to, I would highly recommend listening to some old, old stories.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Monday Music: St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Our local guys are becoming a national sensation! Here is the group St. Paul and the Broken bones on Late Night with David Letterman. (Next week: Alabama Shakes).


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Daybreak


the first light of day
a faint river mist rises
footsteps find the path

                          ~ CK

Photo by Malcolm Marler


Friday, May 1, 2015

The Magic City Art Connection – and Birmingham’s Disconnect

I have spent some time on this blog over the past year extolling the good things about the city of Birmingham. I have been proud of the strides the city has taken in urban residential development, the creation of Railroad Park, bringing the Birmingham Barons back to the city, and hosting His Holiness the Dalai Lama during Human Rights Week. I regret to say, however, that our city leaders have taken a huge step backwards, as evidenced by the city's treatment of the Magic City Art Connection last weekend. Birmingham has decided that it will no longer waive fees for public events that require additional services from the city such as police, fire, and sanitation.  Therefore, the Magic City Art Connection will owe the city around $12,000.

For over thirty years the Magic City Art Connection has been a source of life and vitality for the city and a wonderful celebration of the creative arts. It has been a venue for local artists, students, and others to display their talents. It has also been a place to give children hands-on experience in artistic creation with their Imagination Festival workshops.

At one of the events years ago, a school teacher was using the event to celebrate the art of poetry. He was asking passersby to write a short poem on small paper flags which were then attached to long strings and draped along the trees in the park. I’m not one to sketch, draw or paint, but jotting down a poem, I can do.  I therefore took up the young teacher’s invitation. It became an opportunity to stop, look around and take in the sights and sounds around me. After a brief time of observing the gathering in the park, I wrote a short poem. My poem was attached, as requested, to one of the banners hanging from a tree, where it caught the breeze along with many other poems.  I also jotted it down and took it home as a remembrance of the day:

"Tree-wrapping" at a past
Magic City Art Connection event
In the Park

Sitting on the roots
   of an old oak tree
In the park
Watching children
Dance and pop bubbles
Being blown by a clown --
This is the reason
For civilization.


Unwelcome Financial Changes

This year, with the city of Birmingham charging fees for the use of Linn Park, patrons coming to the Magic City Art Connection had to pay to gain admission. My grown daughter and I attended, as we had done so many times in the past when she was growing up. This time, paying $5 to get in was a bit of a downer, but seeing temporary fencing surrounding the park, a lack of people freely coming and going, and smaller numbers in attendance was an even BIGGER downer. I missed the openness, the celebration, and the free-flow of people. There were also fewer vendors on hand to provide food and refreshments. John Archibald, columnist for The Birmingham News says that the city might as well throw out the "unwelcome mat."
In his column for the Sunday edition, “City of Birmingham: It takes (more) money to waste (your) money” Archibald takes the city council to task for its exorbitant spending on personal trips around the world, but denying requested funds to enable the police department to cover extra expenses for maintaining security at civic events such as the Magic City Art Connection. “Mayor William Bell, with the tact of a SWAT team and the grace of a water buffalo,” Archibald wrote,  “earlier this year issued an edict saying the city would – ‘due to economic reasons’ -- no longer waive fees for city services at events and festivals like this weekend's Magic City Art Connection. So that festival, which has drawn people downtown for three decades, will get a city bill for at least $12,000.”

The kicker, as John Archibald states, is that the city is not being fiscally responsible as a whole. He presents a glaring comparison: “We know every time a Birmingham Council member wants to fly to Washington DC -- which is just about every week -- the city will drop $5,000 like it's hot. And that's about the same amount the city wants to charge for charity road races that bring thousands downtown and raise money for the city's most deprived people.”

I am certainly on board with what Archibald is saying. Surely the goodwill, the influx of visitors with money to spend, and the event itself would bring the kind of publicity and promotion that a vibrant city needs. If the city of Birmingham continues this penny wise and pound foolish measure of refusing to waive fees for special events, those events may follow the city council members’ lead and do some travelling themselves – to cities that are more welcoming.

Setting Up Barriers

My daughter Elaine, who is an artist in her own right, was even more dismayed by the barriers in evidence at this year’s festival. She saw “that awful fence” that surrounded the park as representative of a wider barrier – the barrier between the poor and cultural expression. “Too many people think that art is somehow above them, out of their reach and out of their comprehension. How many times do we hear,” she pointed out, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like? Easy access,” she says, “teaches children about the accessibility of art and removes elitism.” She was sad to see the city create yet another barrier between art and the people. “Five dollars (the price of admission for the day) isn’t much to us, but what about the families that rely on public assistance? These are the very people who we want to reach the most.”

From the 2014 Magic City Arts Connection
Students involved in a
2008 workshop 

Furthermore, my daughter was concerned about the impression that visitors may have. “Art fairs like this draw people from all over the country who want to show and sell their work,” she noted. “We want to give them a good impression of our city.”  One artist we talked with who works in ceramics came down from Indiana. She had a booth with many attractive items for sale. Indeed, for 32 years the Magic City Art Connection has attracted artists and artisans from far and wide, and has introduced children and adults to the many and wonderful means of artistic expression. 

Keeping the “Magic” in the Magic City

The irony is that for all of those years when Birmingham seemed to be foundering, losing its economic footing, wondering how it could keep living up to the “Magic City” moniker of its industrial heyday, it always found a way to support these special events. Now that our city is beginning to re-emerge as the up-and-coming city of the South, we are hit with this policy reversal from city hall in its refusing to grant the needed funds for community events.

Let’s hope that in the future wiser minds will prevail so that the police, fire, and sanitation departments can be adequately funded to serve special events the way they have in the past. Demonstrating to everyone that our city can find a way to promote special events like the Magic City Art Connection is one way we can continue to live up to “the Magic City” heritage. With the momentum of new and exciting developments that are making Birmingham an attractive place, let’s not nickel and dime our way back into the doldrums of the recent past by continued refusal to waive fees for beneficial public events.

Booths where artists display and sell their work


All photos are were taken from the Magic City Art Connection website and

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