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The Spirit of Monroe County III

I have to be somewhat careful, because in addition to a local audience, some people read or listen to these reviews on a national level. However, I believe a film critic is under-utilizing his platform – read: not doing his job – if he doesn’t cover local productions. And I also think that reviewing movies alone is too narrow a scope.

I grew up on PBS, and my own kids are doing the same. Full disclosure: my day job is as a producer for WTIU, our local public television station. I’ll tell you what I can’t say so stridently on air: television is a wasteland. It’s not that there isn’t good stuff on cable and the commercial nets (though there isn’t much). It’s the commercials themselves. Ads that break up shows so complex thoughts are impossible; ads that compel us to buy things we don’t even want; ads that, because advertisers really run things, mean we don’t get the stuff that could really enrich us.

This, the ruination of the most powerful medium for communication and education ever devised by the mind of man. And yet – there is PBS. For now. If we take care of it.

It’s more than the national line-up, which is so well-done, it actually increases you. Teaches thousands of kids to read, you know, stuff like that. It’s really all about the local productions. We’re incredibly fortunate to have not just a PBS station in our back yard, but a producing station. That means we have a tool to knit us more closely as a community. A tool that coordinates our sense of local identity.

WTIU has done a whole series of shows about Indiana towns. They’ve now gotten around to Bloomington and Monroe County, and no matter how long you’ve lived here, or how many cultural opportunities you’ve sampled, you’re going to learn something.

How many towns the size of Bloomington have Big 10 athletics, an opera house, and a school of music competitive with Julliard? That have professional regional theater of the quality of the Cardinal Stage Company, and an educated populace prepared to support it? That is virtually steeped in the arts? One woman interviewed in the documentary, who spent 20 years in Greenwich Village, makes the point that we are just as saturated with artists, but artists who do it for the work, not with an eye on money and fame.

You’ll see the incredible diversity of this place on excellent display. For example, the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, which, since 1975, has grown to accommodate 5,000 customers, and where kids walk around happily chewing on fresh green beans instead of Snickers bars. The Taste of Bloomington, where you’re reminded of just what an embarrassment of fine restaurants we’ve got. Oliver Winery, which, in the documentary, gives us permission to have a chardonnay with our steak and don’t listen to what anybody says.

Poetry. Painting. Limestone sculpture in Ellettsville and Stinesville, or being carved in front of you for the entrance of Ivy Tech, a wonderfully thriving community college. The incomparable Lotus World Music and Arts Festival (did you know it was named partly after Quinten Lotus Dickey, an old-time fiddler? Now we do.) The Waldron Arts Center and the African American Arts Institute, the Arts Fair on the Square, the 4th Street Festival with its gaily colored glass and ceramics. What we’re talking about is, as Susie Graham, Director for the Center for Lifelong Learning says, “a confluence”.

That barely skims the surface of the arts talked about in the show (the stuff I care about). Perhaps you’ll be equally, or more, interested to learn about regional fixtures like the I.U. Life Sciences Department, and what they’re concocting; or the MPRI shooting protons into people at 2/3 the speed of light. The point is that you’re going to learn more about your home, and be all the more proud for it.

“The Spirit of Monroe County III” premieres this Sunday, March 1st, once at 6:00 pm and again at 7:30 pm, where it will be presented from a live studio.

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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  • Rachel Velarde

    I grew up in Bloomington, am now in Phoenix and am GLAD to run across Bloomington info on a national level! Bloomington was a fabulous town to grow up in, but as a voice teacher, it’s TOO saturated for me to be able to make a living there…I will definitely let my family who is still there know about this, though!

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