It’s no secret the Heber Valley has seen some dramatic changes in the past few years. Since 2000, the population has doubled, and is expected to double again by 2040. The community is shifting from a sleepy agricultural community to a burgeoning mountain recreation mecca.
Growth causes changes. Some changes are drastic such as increased traffic on Main Street, more commercial and retail offerings, and fields once plowed for grain become house-lined streets that are plowed for snow.
Other changes, though not intrinsically bad, are more subtle and harder to anticipate or see. Gradually, the western heritage of the valley shifts to something more urban. Cultural attitudes and values shift and adapt to the needs of the changing demographic landscape. Eventually, some who have been here long enough start longing for the “good ol’ days,” and 20 years from now we may be longing for the way things are today. Some changes can cause a great deal of harm, but others, if anticipated and planned for, can cause a great deal of good by helping us preserve what we love in our communities and may even have us looking with excitement toward the future. Take for example the growing arts community in the valley and consider where it has come from, how it benefits the valley and what the future holds.
Sue Waldrip of Midway has been in the valley since 2005, and over the past 13 years she has seen how the arts have grown from a handful of struggling artists and performers to a viable solution to the challenges and changes facing the Heber Valley.
Waldrip has spent her whole life loving and appreciating the arts. Her love for the arts began at an early age when she picked up the violin for the first time. The arts carried her through college with a music degree from the University of Utah. Soon after graduating, Waldrip headed off to California where she would raise her family of six kids. As often happens when raising children, some of her passions where placed on hold as she poured her love and effort into her family.
Nevertheless, she still felt the arts calling her and through the years she found a new love of writing musicals and conducting choral groups. It became a way for her to connect with her community and even with a higher power.
“I think art is divine. When we do good art, of whatever kind, it’s a way of communicating with a higher power. I think It makes us better people because it lifts and lightens our hearts,” says Sue Waldrip.
Today, Waldrip is the president of a theater group in Midway called High Valley Arts. Her group performs many times throughout the year from small, more intimate choral concerts, to grand productions of musicals such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” “Annie Get your Gun,” “The Wizard of Oz” and most recently “My Fair Lady.” Waldrip started High Valley Arts in 2009 and uses mostly volunteers to produce her events.
Whether it’s rehearsals, planning meetings, auditions, scenery production or promotions, Waldrip is always pushing her organization to strive for excellence and said other artists who love their work are doing the same. “We do everything the best we can. I love what I do so much that I can’t imagine anything less than excellence,” says Waldrip.
It is this striving for excellence in the arts that can have a transformative influence on the community.
It’s been her experience that the arts can inspire people to look at life in a new way, to explore new ideas and find solutions to many community problems. The Heber Valley is going through a major transition right now with debates about open space, preserving heritage, building a diversified economy and growth. In many ways Sue Waldrip says embracing the arts through things such as theater, music, painting, photography or whatever the medium can help address some of what she calls “tug-o-war” issues in the county.
“Heber Valley is unique. The focus has been more cowboys, demolition derbies and agriculture than the arts, but as more people have come to the valley the arts have started to slowly grow,” she says.
She points out how the Heber Valley culture is in fact being preserved through many of the different art programs in the valley. The Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering has grown from a few residents around the valley
swapping stories over some shared chili to one of the best in the country. The whole goal of the gathering is to preserve and honor the western way of life through music and odes to life on the trail. It’s the art that is keeping the stories and emotions of the west, and our own heritage, alive.
Having visual and performing arts programs in this valley has helped create a more stable and diversified economy. Art helps create feelings of safety and security in the community that attract investment.
Waldrip says the arts are a form of communication with a wide variety of dialects. Each person speaks and responds to a different dialect, but the arts’ ability to convey motion and connection is universal. As the Heber Valley continues to grow and change over the next few years, she feels that an investment into the arts will be a way to communicate to one another on a deeper level, to inspire new ideas and keep what is loved about the Heber Valley.
For more information on upcoming events and ways to get involved with the arts in the HV, check out wasatchcountyarts.org.