Macon is an amazing place. For a city its size, it is home to a fabulous array of resources — not just architectural splendor but theaters, museums, galleries, libraries and festivals — the sorts of things that a city needs in order to attract (and keep) high-paying enterprises.
Yet some don’t see it that way. They focus on the blight, the stagnant population growth, the businesses that have closed and the families who have fled to the contiguous counties. Whose view is correct?
Every time I get caught up in this debate, I think of the trip that my mother took her grandchildren on toward the end of her life. She had grown up around the Chesapeake Bay, an area rife with history, the land and water where America’s freedom was forged, and she wanted her grandchildren to see these hallowed places.
We flew from Atlanta to Norfolk, Virginia, and headed for a hotel near historic Hampton Roads. When I checked into our lodgings, the desk clerk noticed that I had listed “Pleasure” as the purpose of trip. She looked at me in astonishment and blurted out, “Are you telling me that you left a place like Atlanta and flew to this (bad word) of your own free will?”
I have thought about that night many times since. The young student was standing at a spot where, had she closed her eyes, she could have envisioned the panorama of events that led to America’s independence. Her education had failed her.
Here in Macon, a few years ago a friend posted on social media the news that her school-age daughter would be away for the summer and asked for suggestions on how she could best employ her new-found free time. Astonishingly, many of the replies were along the lines of “The only thing to do around here is to pick up a bottle of vodka on the way home.”
Clearly there is work to be done. We not only need to spread the good news, we must ensure that all feel welcome at this feast that Macon offers. Many of our attractions are noteworthy by virtue of their age — for example, the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, the Hay House, Macon Concert Association, Macon Little Theatre — others have less history but possess similar merit: the Tubman Museum, the Museum of Arts and Sciences, Theatre Macon, the Macon Film Guild, the Season at the Grand, Rock Candy Tours, the Big House, Otis Camp, Grant’s Lounge and several community-based events, including Music and the Arts at Vineville and Jazz and the Arts on Riverdale.
Much of the abundance that our colleges and universities make available to the community is free — for example the dozens of first-rate musical events at Mercer’s Townsend School of Music — and the ever-expanding calendar at the Douglass Theatre is practically a one-stop entertainment machine, complete with HD broadcasts from the Met in New York and London’s National Theatre.
I could continue, but enumeration is not the point. My point is that we have the resources necessary to make this one of the most celebrated cities in the Southeast. While our promotional efforts have improved in recent years, they still are anemic when compared to the fabulous things that exist here. Pick up a copy of Georgia Trend, Atlanta Magazine or Southern Living: Macon is invisible.
Let’s start telling our story – not just to would-be visitors but to many of our current residents. Some will say that we can’t afford to do better. They’re wrong: If we care about our future, we can’t afford not to.
Larry Fennelly is a local educator.