From The Editors

Categories:  From the Editors    Opinion
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 at 12:14 AM

On Wednesday, March 26, we woke up to some good news: Local universities are working together to help cement Erie’s image as a true “college town,” and we will finally be getting a community college. Well, sort of.

For a long time, when Erie dressed for work in the morning and took a long look at itself before heading out to face the workday, it recognized the collar of its shirt was blue and the lines tracking across its face were from long, hard years of manufacturing. But that image is changing. The production goliaths of yesteryear have vanished, withered, or re-located, but centers of knowledge, of training, of education have sprouted, blossomed, and thrived. Now those local institutions are planning to work together for the betterment of Erie, to attract more students, to retain degree-holders, to cement a new image that Erie will see when it looks in the mirror: One with a cap and tassel.

But this wasn’t the led story that Wednesday. It wasn’t frontpage news and it wasn’t what lead the top-of-the-hour report. What led was the announcement of The Porreco College of Edinboro University — “The Community’s College.”

You know the story: There was the battle to establish a community college, a push from then-County Executive Barry Grossman. But there was resistance, a push back from County Council, school boards, and the community. And the discussion went silent.

The story is, though, that northwestern Pennsylvania is one of the largest areas in the country unserved by a community college. For those looking for training, for certifications, for affordable post-high school education, all things a community college would offer, there simply wasn’t an option.

Now, we have an option, one provided by an already established institution. So while Erie isn’t getting a community college by definition, it is getting a college for the community that will serve the functions typically offered by a community college.

Education can lead to opportunities and opportunities can lead to progress and progress can lead to a stronger region. This all is good news.

But on that Wednesday, we also woke up to some bad news: Local venue, the crooked i — a place that supported local artists, drew in national acts, and improved the overall well-being of the state of live music in Erie — was shuttering its doors for good.

What the crooked i meant to the Erie music scene can’t be overstated. It was a place that supported every genre, giving local musicians a space to improve and hone their skills, and exposed Erie residents to touring acts they could before only see in Buffalo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh.

In just four years, the crooked i reshaped how Erie’s cultural vibe was heard, experienced, and felt and it made the city a cooler place to live in or visit. And like many good things, it took its final bow and went off into the night at the height of its success.

The clear question lingering now is: Where do we go from here?

Venues have closed before, just as new ones have sprouted up. But there was something recognizably different about the crooked i. “It makes Erie feel, well, like a big city — one with a real culture scene,” someone said during the final show.

Whether you believe it or not, that statement is telling: Erie isn’t seen as a “big city” (read: culturally progressive — or at the very least, culturally dynamic and diverse).

There’s a simple argument against this: We have a great museum and gallery spaces throughout the city, and there are other venues offering live music. We have amazing restaurants, talented artists, and a population energetic about the creative welfare of our city.

But could we have more outlets? What did the crooked i give us that we’ve lost? How could Erie be better, have more places to channel that energy as not be seen as a cultural desert?

At the same time the city focuses on re-shaping its image — the transition from manufacturing to other, to new, to different — our cultural well-being is in need of examination. Jobs and opportunities will attract people to Erie, and can resolve that brain-gain, brain-drain issue. But people only spend a quarter of their time working. The rest, well, that’s to be determined by a city’s cultural landscape.

To retain people, to grow the gain, Erie needs to offer more than just places to work — it needs a stronger source of cultural enrichment, a wider exposure to the arts, a clear and convincing means of improving quality of life. Now — as we stand of the precipice of our future, we need to realize that cultural investment is just as important as economic and educational investment, because if the stigma of “there’s nothing to do in Erie” continues, those moving to Erie for an education will likely move again once they’ve finished that certificate, that degree — they’ll move to somewhere where they perceive there is actually something to do.

Erie Reader: Vol. 7, No. 25
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