WARREN PEPER: Artistic impressions can last a lifetime
What impressions are left with young people when they’re surrounded by adults?
Do they pay close attention to what the grown-ups are doing and saying or are they more apt to just be seen and not heard? When we expose young minds to worlds beyond their understanding does it make a difference? Might something germinate and take root that allows that child to open his mind to untold experiences that could benefit that person for a lifetime? No one really knows.
It’s a bit like tossing seed on the ground. There’s no way to know for sure if the seed will grow or die.
Reap what you sow
Thirty-six years ago, William Swinton received an invitation from a young mayor, Joe Riley, to attend a Spoleto event. The student held an appreciation for a mayor who he felt wanted to serve the whole city.
Swinton was a junior at Rivers High School. The first Spoleto Festival had started in Charleston and a couple of inner city teenagers were given tickets to see the Eliot Feld Ballet. It would be their first arts performance experience of their lives.
Bill Swinton’s memory of that performance at Gaillard Auditorium is still very clear. He watched people jump and leap on a stage with elegance and discipline. He heard music that opened his ears and eyes to sounds he barely realized could be produced with such boldness and clarity. Bill soaked it all in. It wasn’t what he calls life-changing, but it was meaningful and the first live, professional performance he’d ever seen. He was so inspired he joined the school choir.
It was the spring of 1977 that Bill Swinton vividly remembers thinking there’s a lot more about God’s great world that he wanted to discover.
That young man never stopped learning. He received a Bachelor of Science at S.C. State. Later, it was off to seminary at Oral Roberts University. He would later add another set of initials with a Doctorate of Ministry. Swinton is now the minister at Ebenezer AME Church in Charleston.
Every year, Lowcountry students are taken on field trips to various Spoleto events. They don’t pay admission, but they are asked to pay attention.
Many of Charleston’s children will be exposed during the Spoleto Festival to people and productions they would probably never see if not for this passing opportunity. Some of those children will enjoy it, others will probably wonder why they had to attend.
The Rev. Dr. William Swinton Jr. absolutely believes that moment was a springboard for greater learning opportunities. Seeing those dancers created a thirst for knowledge he’s still trying to quench.
Do you believe in a circle of life? How perfect then that it was Swinton who conducted the prayer for this year’s opening ceremony on the steps of City Hall.
Thirty-six years goes by in a blur. But it’s all brought into focus as a local pastor asks those assembled to close their eyes, so that others like him can give thanks for a festival that’s opened the eyes of so many others.
I’m just sayin’ …