Stone Soup

July 11th, 2012

From the opening pages of Robert Theobald’s book Reworking Success: New Communities at the Millenium.

A stranger comes to a starving town,

Promising to make stone soup.


He finds some firewood,

Uses his own pot,

Puts water on to boil.


As the water heats.

He wanders around,






He adds them to the pot,


With strange muttered recipes.



The villagers gather round.

This is the best entertainment

Their village has had since the famine began.


As they listen,

They hear the stranger admit

That while stone soup is good,

It does taste better with a pinch of salt.


One of the crazier people,

(Or is she actually more caring?)

Brings out some salt she has hoarded.


The stranger

Gets bolder,

Suggests carrots,

And potatoes,

And swedes,

And dried tomatoes

And herbs.

As each one is added,

Others remember their own stores

And bring them to the common stew.


We have all made something out of nothing,

By remembering the old, old lesson,

That together we can create opportunities

Which escape us when we hide

Our resources and skills from others.


It is time to build community again,

To share what we have,

And to experience miracles.


It is time to live,

Expecting grace

And finding it,


Even hourly,

In the midst

Of our harried lives.

—-Robert Theobald


This is what CRADLE is all about. Individually, nobody had food that would feed them, but together they created a rich and nourishing soup that everyone could share. I suppose I am the stranger in the story, although Bakersville and Mitchell County are hardly the starving town — each already has many riches. But my task is to encourage people to put their thoughts, their songs, their stories, their knowledge, their traditions into the pot so that everyone can thrive. As Theobald says, “together we can create opportunities / Which escape us when we hide / Our resources and skills from others.”

It has now been four months since that March evening when the music of Buncombe Turnpike “kicked off” the Bringing the Arts Back Home project in Bakersville. My assistant, Kirby Gibson, and I are putting together several different events to get things rolling. We’re starting to make stone soup, but to make it palatable we will need to hear from the people of Bakersville, Ledger, Red Hill, Loafer’s Glory, Tipton Hill, Buladean, Spruce Pine and many, many other places in Mitchell County that I have only begun to learn about. We’ll need you to share what talents and knowledge you have to share, and on the other hand, what talents and knowledge you’d like to experience or learn about. And we’ll try to get them added to the soup.

Let’s set the water warming!

Shannon Hayes: Produce More Than You Consume

April 8th, 2012

In the February/March issue of Mother Earth News, author and homesteader Shannon Hayes answers the question “What is the most valuable lesson or skill you’ve learned [through homesteading]?” as follows:

To produce more than I consume. There are myriad ways to do this: play music rather than download it; knit rather than go to the movies, grow food rather than buy it from a grocery story, cook rather than eat out. When I spend my time producing for my well-being rather than paying for it with dollars, I have a lot more fun, life is more interesting, and I just don’t have time to waste money.

This is what CRADLE is all about. Re-empowering people to produce for themselves whatever they can, rather than buying everything with dollars. It is a commitment to self-sufficiency, to the creation of what John McKnight and Peter Block call an “abundant community” that is capable of providing itself as much of what it needs as possible. Another word for this, which is the focus of Transition Culture, is resilience — the ability of a community to maintain itself when faced with a shock.

Well, small communities have been facing shocks for decades, and have been resilient in the face of them. But the place where communities allow the larger culture to most intrude is in the area of entertainment and self-expression. We have allowed ourselves to believe that only “special people” who appear on the cover of People Magazine really can entertain us. We have become entertainment consumers, and do not, as Shannon Hayes says, create more than we consume. This takes our power away from us. As McKnight and Block write, “A consumer is one who has surrendered to others the power to provide what is essential for a full and satisfied life. This act of surrender goes by many names: client, patient, student, audience, fan, shopper. All customers, not citizens. Consumerism is not about shopping, but about the transformation of citizens into consumers.”

I have lived in metropolises — New York City (twice, for heavens sake) and Minneapolis-St.Paul, and my experience is that people in places like these have fallen prey to consumerism far more than people in small communities, which is why I have focused CRADLE on small and rural areas. It isn’t because rural areas have been neglected (although they most assuredly have been), but because it seems to me as if small and rural communities haven’t gone as far down the road to dependence. There is a sense of self-reliance about the people I meet in Bakersville and Spruce Pine, a sense of determination to maintain the town’s identity. And part of that sense of independence should include the stories we tell ourselves, the songs we sing, the rituals we participate in, the skills we share.

Now is the time that I am looking for people who have something they’d like to share. It doesn’t have to be something “impressive,” something that could earn you a place on Dancing with the Stars or American Idol. It could be a story that was told to you by your grandmother, a skill you developed in the garden, a book you’d like to talk about with other people, an instrument that you’ve learned to play a little.

Please let me know. Leave a comment here, or drop me a note at PO Box 203 Bakersville NC 28705 or call me at 828-989-9468 or email me at Maybe it is someone you know who has something to share. Let’s make Mitchell County self-reliant!

Bakersville: Great Night!

March 11th, 2012

Well, last night’s kick-off with Buncombe Turnpike went great! We had over a hundred people and the courthouse was filled with energy. Casey Stockton and the Southern Brothers opened with four excellent songs. I was blown away by Casey’s voice, and Mitchell and Isaac did a great job on guitar. They brought quite a few supporters with them, which made it doubly enjoyable.

Then I got up and provided some details about CRADLE.

And then Buncombe Turnpike played, and oh my wasn’t that great? As Bob Hensley said to me afterwards, it was great to have a bluegrass concert of almost all original songs. And what songs! I can still hear “I was born in the mountains of Western Caroline” ringing in my ears. And their guest instrumentalists on mandolin and dobro were amazing musicians. They added a sense of special event to the evening.

I hope everyone had a good time. I’ll be putting together a few more free events for April, so watch this space!

Bakersville: Getting Close!

March 7th, 2012

We’re just a few days away from the Bakersville “Bringing the Arts Back Home” kick-off with Buncombe Turnpike and special guest Casey Stockton. There are banners up in town, ads running on WKYK and WTOE with a feature on their webpage and an interview coming up Thursday morning between 9:30 and 10:00 am,  an ad and article in the Blue Ridge Christian News, press release to the Mitchell News-Journal, and flyers around town. Now all we need is people!

When I was in town yesterday, I realized that we were up against the Mitchell H. S. production of Footloose, which opens tonight (break a leg!). My apologies for the overlap. When I move out to Bakersville, I’m hoping that events like this will be a CRADLE-sponsored event!
Here is a sample of Buncombe Turnpike’s wonderful music to get you ready for Saturday!

Bakersville: Buncombe Turnpike Kick-off

February 19th, 2012

Update: We have added an opening act for Buncombe Turnpike. Mitchell HS talent show winner Casey Stockton, who recently auditioned for America’s Got Talent, will do a few songs at 7:00. Tom Godleski, cofounder of Buncombe Turnpike, was enthusiastic about the addition of Stockton. “I absolutely believe that young people should be encouraged and supported.” It’s what CRADLE is all about, too! Spread the word!

We have scheduled our first event to kick off the beginning of the Bakersville “Bringing the Arts Back Home” project! On Saturday, March 10th at 7:300 in the Historic Courthouse, the popular bluegrass band Buncombe Turnpike will play. Tickets are free and will be available at the door starting 30 mins before the concert.

Buncombe Turnpike

I am thrilled that Tom Godleski and Buncombe Turnpike will open up the project because in many ways they represent exactly what “Bringing the Arts Back Home” is all about. Tom writes songs about Western North Carolina,, many from his own experiences. It is so important that we in Bakersville, and everywhere else in the US for that matter, start telling our own stories, singing our own songs, and reclaiming our own creativity instead of simply buying whatever Hollywood, New York, and Nashville create for us. It isn’t that these mass media arts are somehow “bad,” but rather that they shouldn’t be the only thing we encounter.

Mitchell County has talent, Bakersville has talent — but we are regularly told that the talent we have isn’t “enough,” that we should just sit down, shut up, and let the “professionals” do it for us. Oh, we encourage our young people to be in plays, sing in choirs, and so forth, and that is very, very important. But creativity isn’t just for kids! But we can sing, we can tell stories, we can dance, and we can quilt and knit and make furniture and so many other things. And that is what “Bringing the Arts Back Home” is all about: creative self-sufficiency.

Well, enough — on March 10th, we’ll get things going. I hope to see you there, and that I’ll have a chance to talk to you and start getting to know you. I’m looking forward to it!


February 16th, 2012

From Seth Godin’s post “Music Lessons (that work for publishing, too)“:

13. Whenever possible, sell subscriptions

Few businesses can successfully sell subscriptions (magazines being the very best example), but when you can, the whole world changes. HBO, for example, is able to spend its money making shows for its viewers rather than working to find viewers for every show.

The biggest opportunity for the music business is to combine permission with subscription. The possibilities are endless. And I know it’s hard to believe, but the good old days are yet to happen.

This is also the biggest opportunity for participatory arts, I believe. Instead of selling tickets to individual events, sell subscriptions and create a shows for subscribers.


February 12th, 2012

Being creative is better than buying creative.

Art in a Human Context

February 1st, 2012

“It would be better if art were nameless, and that those of us who write about art in books and the reviews and newspapers, always clacking about art, or Art, or ART, were constrained somehow by good taste or a hickory club either to do art in its appropriate human context, and in doing be it, or keep still. For art suffers more than most activities in being withdrawn from the contexts of living. It is categorized as something special.”

Baker Brownell, The Human Community, 1950 


“Modern art activity can provide a new birth and new creative directions of usefulness for such a community. As art activity is developed, the community is recreated The vital roots of every phase of life are touched As the community is awakened to its opportunity in the arts, it becomes a laboratory through which the vision of the region is reformulated and extended And as the small community discovers its role, as the small community generates freshness of aesthetic response across the changing American scene, American art and life are enhanced.”

Robert Gard, Arts in The Small Communities, 1967 

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr

January 16th, 2012

While there will be many tributes today to the vision and determination of Martin Luther King, from artists and non-artists alike, I think the best thing the arts as a field could do would be to take seriously the Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change report and address the inequities that are built into the non-profit arts infrastructure.

Lately, we have seen the enormously negative effects of Big Money in politics through the creation of Super Pacs and the lifting of limitations on corporate political contributions as a result of Citizens United. Well, this situation has long been in place in the arts. The wealthy and powerful dominate governing boards, and major institutions court major donations from rich individual donors and their foundations. And then we wonder why the money is centralized in elite, white, urban institutions and why those institutions present art that appeals to that demographic.

It is important that CRADLE not fall prey to this pattern. Local CRADLE organizations should have boards comprised not only of town leaders and elites, but of people representative of the population as a whole. This means choosing board members not for their ability to contribute and raise money, but for the value of their viewpoint and wisdom.

In the book The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, authors John McKnight and Peter Block call on citizens to create powerful and competent communities based on three “universal properties”:

  • The Giving of Gifts – The gifts of the people in our neighborhood are boundless. Our movement calls forth those gifts.
  • The Presence of Association – In association we join our gifts together, and they become amplified, magnified, productive, and celebrated.
  • The Compassion of Hospitality – We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and need to share our own. Our doors are open. There are no strangers here, just friends we haven’t met.

The latter is particularly important, as it promotes what Block calls a “welcome at the edge.” It isn’t only the rich and powerful who have gifts to offer, but those who have been traditional ignored or marginalized. And those must be actively sought out and celebrated.

We must not continue to waste the talents of our people. We must not continue to ignore the stories of our people. We must celebrate the richness that exists in all people. And we must create an artistic infrastructure that promotes these values.

Announcement: Bakersville, NC (pop 464)

January 15th, 2012

I am thrilled to announce that, thanks to the generous support of a local donor, CRADLE will begin a new pilot program in Bakersville, NC (pop 464) in the coming year. It is my hope that by the end of this summer we will have an active and sustainable participatory arts program up and running in the historic Mitchell County Courthouse.

Why Bakersville?

One reason was Bakersville’s town motto: “Gateway to the Roan, Home to the Arts.” But it was much more than that.

In January of 1998, Bakersville was the victim of a major flood that damaged much of the town to such an extent that it was declared a disaster. The citizens decided not only to clean up and rebuild, but to make Bakersville better than it had been in the past. One part of that project involved renovating the historic courthouse into an arts and education center. It took over a decade, but the town,

Historic Mitchel County Courthouse

with the invaluable assistance of Handmade In America’s Small Town Revitalization Program, raised over a million dollars for the renovation. In March of 2010, the courthouse was opened. The courtroom had been converted into a beautiful performance space complete with capabilities for livestreaming events over the internet. Other rooms in the building were converted into smart classrooms and offices for local historic and educational organizations.

In 2011, I received a call for proposals from the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant program. I decided to collaborate with HandMade in America, and contacted Judi Jetson to discuss which of the small towns in her program would be best for the project. While there were several towns with renovated performance space, we ultimately8 agreed that Bakersville would be the focus. The “Our Town” grant required a collaboration with town leaders, and Bakersville had an impressive group in place who had spearheaded the courthouse renovation. We had meetings with Bob Hensley, Susan Ledford, Dan Barron, and mayor Charles Vine and all were strongly supportive of the program.

The NEA grant we put together made the final round of proposals but ultimately was not funded, I was determined that Bakersville was the right place for this project. I decided to scale back the size of the request and approach a local foundation whose focus was on Mitchell County and who had demonstrated an interest in the arts. After looking more closely at the budget, I decided to reduce it to $25,000 (the original grant was many times greater than that). While I expect that I could have asked for more, or raised additional money from another foundation, I felt that I wanted to show that it wouldn’t take a huge commitment of funds to get a CRADLE organization going. After all, small towns don’t have a great deal of available cash, and I wanted this process to be replicable in other small towns across the country.

I partnered with the Toe River Arts Council, where Executive Director Denise Cook was an enthusiastic supporter. Together, I believe we will succeed in creating a vibrant, sustainable participatory arts program in Bakersville.

And so I will use this blog to describe the process of creating this pilot over the coming year. I hope you will follow along, asking questions and making suggestions. And if you are a member of a small town and interested in creating a CRADLE organization where you live, please contact me at



Scott Walters (director)
(828) 989-9468