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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Opportunity for Hurricane Victims and Us

Opportunity for Hurricane Victims and Us.


Down around Biloxi
Pretty girls are swimming in the sea
The boy will fill his pail with salted water
And the storms will blow from off towards New Orleans


-Jesse Winchester (Jimmy Buffett)


I bought a copy of Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album, with  the song Biloxi,  during the winter of 1978.    The temperature  was 25 below zero and snow stayed on the ground for  months.


I listened to Jimmy and dreamed of being in Biloxi.   


Two years ago, I drove hundreds of  miles  to see the place that I had  thought about for 25 years.


I needed to see the paradise that Jesse Winchester and Jimmy Buffett had described for me.


 I was there for about an hour and mostly saw casino boats.  I did see the water that inspired Winchester to write his opus.


The gulf coast has always motivated great music and art.  Cities like New Orleans spawned creativity and nurtured it.


The horror of Hurricane Katrina has changed the region.  Right now, the focus is on the immediate.  Lives need to be saved and overwhelming problems   to be dealt with. 


At the same time, cities across America have  a long term opportunity for them and the hurricane victims.


Civic leaders should recruit displaced artists and creative people to live in their communities.


People from the Gulf Coast are going to have to answer the famous   Billy Ray Cyrus question, “Where Am I  Going to Live When I Get Home”?


I want them to live here. 


I live in Berea, the arts capital of Kentucky.  


If  I were running Berea,  I would work nonstop  to get talented people   to move  here.   I would offer economic assistance and  let   creative people know there is a community that welcomes them.  


It would   benefit  all  parties.   Great talent will inspire creativity and lift an entire community.


It might seem crass to be thinking about civic improvement during a  tragedy  but  opportunity  always comes out of great loss.


 Most of America is populated by people whose ancestors   fled from  famines, wars and  other disasters.


 Rising above a crisis inspires people to move further and faster than they ever had before.  America was built on that spirit.


The recruiting should not be left to cities with a big artistic presence.  Any community  would benefit.


Grayson, Kentucky might develop another songwriter like Tom T. Hall and the lakes in Grayson County, Kentucky   might inspire music, writing or art.    


Every community has something to offer and there are many talented   people who need a new place to start.


Leaders need to move quickly.   The opportunity will not be available for very long.  


A coach for entrepreneurs said starting a business is like being a cliff diver in Acapulco.


 In order to hit the water, you jump when  you only see  rocks.  Divers need  the faith and vision  to jump  and know the water will be there.


If community leaders make the leap and start recruiting displaced artisans, their communities will benefit for generations to come.  


The Dyersville Commercial (Iowa)  recently started publishing my column in their newspaper.   Dyersville is famous for being the site of the “Field of Dreams” and  the location for the Academy Award nominated movie.


The movie is an excellent metaphor for civic leaders.


The movie’s main character, Ray Kinsella, (played by Kevin Costner) was pushed by a voice that told him  “If you build it, they will come”.    He risked economic loss and ridicule to pursue a vision of building a baseball field in a cornfield.


He, his family and his community were ultimately rewarded for the effort.    


Along with improving their communities,  leaders will  be doing something that helps displaced people see opportunity and a place in a the world.


When dead  baseball players like “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and others appeared  at the “Field of Dreams”   one asked, “Is this heaven”, to which Kinsella replied, “No, this is Iowa.”


Iowa might be heaven for people who have gone though the hell of Hurricane Katrina.  


The surge of creative talent will be good for the people of Iowa too.



Don  McNay is President of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond Kentucky and hope all people have a chance for hope and opportunity. He is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.    You can write to him at or read other things he has written at

















Don McNay