The arts teach critical lessons | A commentary by John Hood

By John Hood, president of the Pope Foundation

This commentary appeared in the Fayetteville Observer on January 13, 2016 

Why should young people study the arts?

It’s not because a large number of them will grow up to become professional dancers, singers, musicians, sculptors, or painters. Such outcomes are rare. Even most of those who go on to spend much of their adult lives performing or producing art do so as an avocation or part-time endeavor. It’s not how they pay their bills or support their families.
In this, however, the arts are hardly distinctive. Most kids who play sports never make the pros. Most young tinkerers never become famous inventors. Most young entrepreneurs who start their own enterprises never become millionaires.

John Hood, president of the Pope Foundation
John Hood, president of the Pope Foundation

We expose young people to a varied diet of lessons and experiences to build their character, their confidence, and their knowledge of the world. We expand their horizons during their childhoods so they will have the greatest degree of freedom as adults to choose their own paths and pursue their own dreams.

During my youth in Mecklenburg County, my parents made sure their five children had many such experiences. It was a major sacrifice for them, both career educators who grew up in modest circumstances, but they sought to give us the opportunities they never had. We took piano, voice, and dance classes (in addition to playing sports and participating in other programs such as Junior Achievement and 4-H). None of the Hood children became professional artists. But all of us continued our artistic pursuits in adulthood as composers, performers, part-time teachers, and enthusiastic patrons.

The charitable foundation where I work, the John William Pope Foundation, was created by another family with a longstanding interest in the arts. John Pope’s mother Gertrude had studied music in college and taught music in Sampson County before marrying James Pope, a businessman from Harnett County, in 1922. Their home was filled with music, often played live by Gertrude on her cherished piano. In 1949, after completing his business studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, their son John Pope married Cumberland County native Joy Wilkins, whose lifelong love of the arts had started as a young girl in the Linden community and then deepened during her teen years in Fayetteville.

John Pope then took over his father’s small retail business in Harnett and Wake counties. Joy joined the business, as well, first in sales and then as bookkeeper. Together, they built it into Variety Wholesalers, the largest privately owned retail variety store chain in the Southeast. Eventually its store brands would include Super 10, Maxway, and Roses.

As the business grew and prospered, John and Joy Pope became increasingly involved in community affairs and philanthropy. In 1986, they created the Pope Foundation along with their three children. From the start, the family channeled a significant share of its charitable giving into the arts, becoming major supporters of such institutions as the North Carolina Symphony, the Raleigh Fine Arts Society, the North Carolina Theatre, and the Carolina Ballet.

New grant
The late Joy Pope championed our arts giving for many years as a board member and former president. This past year, to honor her service and example, the Pope Foundation launched a new program: the Joy Pope Memorial Grant in the Arts. Open to applicants from across North Carolina, the program gives a one-time grant of $100,000 to an organization we believe best exhibits creativity, cost-effectiveness, and commitment in serving the artistic needs of their communities.

Our Joy Pope Memorial Grant recipient for 2016 is the Fayetteville Symphony, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The organization will use its $100,000 gift to create an instrument lending library for participants in the Fayetteville Symphony Youth Orchestra, which draws students from Cumberland, Hoke, Robeson, Moore, and Lee counties. It’s an excellent educational program – and a brilliant use of one-time money to produce long-term benefits for young people and the communities in which they reside.

The staff and board of the John William Pope Foundation are delighted with our selection. Will some future violin virtuoso or internationally acclaimed conductor emerge from the program? Perhaps. But that’s not why we support this or similar endeavors. We want to make sure the next generation of North Carolinians has the same opportunities many of us did: to learn a new skill, yes, but more generally to learn the importance of teamwork, the value of persistence, and the sense of wonder that comes from exposure to great works of art.

To be able to help young people learn these lessons is a privilege, one for which we are deeply grateful.