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Mon, Aug. 19

Guest Editorial: We must value our Living Treasures

Included in the Japanese legal code is a mandate unlike any U.S. legal statute: the "Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties." The purpose of the law is to help ensure the continuation of crafts and performing arts considered quintessentially Japanese, thereby preserving the shared Japanese character for generations to come.

The efficacy of the law hinges on the recognition and certification of individual practitioners of the timeless methods of Japanese expression: Juyo Mukei Bunkasai Hojisha or "Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties." These masters are popularly known as Living National Treasures.

Not so unlike the Japanese tradition, the Prescott area is well-known for valuing and preserving its history and for embracing the traditions of western arts and crafts that have sprung from the hands of native peoples, pioneers and cowboys. We, too, have Living Treasures who exemplify the qualities we identify as part of our Prescott character and identity.

Our Living Treasures include the veterans whose stories are being told regularly in the pages of the Daily Courier; their accounts of their service to our country often reflect two qualities our community admires and aspires to: courage and humility.

The stories of area veterans also point to another feature of the "quad city character": respecting and learning from the past. In another regular Courier feature, Days Past, Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of the Westerners collaborate to clear away the cobwebs from our history. These articles bring us the excitement and significance of the lives of our pioneering founders and inhabitants, helping us see our own stories in that rich context.

Likewise, the Smoki and the Phippen museums house many cultural artifacts and Western art that connects us visually and in three dimensions with those who shared this same land and sky. With their costumes and performances, members of reenactment groups who grace our streets on various occasions help us imagine in concrete terms what life was like. Those who make these things possible create a bridge to what made the Prescott area what it is.

What a different place our town would be without the architectural jewels in our downtown and historic districts. How gratifying, if not at all surprising, to read about Elizabeth Ruffner being honored as one of the first two Living Legacies inducted into the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame. Her work has not only helped to preserve our heritage but the culture and history of the entire state.

Another strong and enduring thread of the character of the Prescott area is generosity and the will to improve the lot of all its residents. Empty bowls are filled through the efforts of Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Prescott Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Homeless are fed and housed in winter through the efforts of the Quad City Interfaith council, the Coalition for Compassion and Justice and the Salvation Army. The Community Cupboard and Yavapai County Food Bank make it possible for ends to meet for many. Under the direction of Ron Barnes, Hungry Kids makes sure youngsters of less means have meals each weekend of the school year.

Ron Barnes, whose columns on human nature appear regularly in the Courier, is an exemplar of another facet of our identity: optimism and care for the future of this very special place. Lately, land use, water resources and the funding required to ensure both are protected have occupied center stage.

These are necessary and worthy concerns; but who will be our Living Treasures of the future, carrying the beauty, vitality and unique identity of our area forward? The Prescott Area Leadership (PAL) program, co-founded by Barnes, helps seed the community with leaders empowering individuals and the Prescott area to reach its full potential. The Prescott Area Youth Leadership program, an outgrowth of PAL, cultivates leadership values and skills in young people. The Launchpad community youth center provides not just a hangout but opportunities for youth to exercise their leadership muscles.

In considering upcoming community issues such as the school bond and budget override proposed by the Prescott Unified School District, we have a choice. We can analyze through a narrow magnifying glass of immediate rewards or we can use a wide-angle lens of our broader civic identity.

We are the temporary custodians of our lovely mountain home, its beauty, culture and history: our enjoyment of this special place is the direct result of the far-sightedness of our fore-bearers and our very own Living Treasures. We can all help to make this our legacy too.

- Alexandra Piacenza, apiacenza@cableone.net

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