Observer editorial board

Something amazing and interesting has been happening in La Grande during the past eight years.

Not long ago, the final wrap for the year was called on the eighth annual Eastern Oregon Film Festival, and if this premier event has escaped the attention of residents, that is a shame.

Sixteen feature films and 20 short pieces of cinema were showcased at the festival. This kind of event is one of those easy-to-overlook future economic multipliers for the entire area.

More than 300 people purchased festival passes for the entire weekend and many more took time out to see at least one of the films or enjoy other aspects of the festival. While that may not seem like a lot of people, it says volumes about the potential for the future.

The arts area key element to any kind of broad-based economic development, but it often collects a lot of words from a lot of people and seldom pans out. That’s because for many it is hard to quantify the arts. But arts are a critical pillar in the future of a small town like La Grande. And the payoff, literally, is obvious. Places like Boise, Idaho, and Ashland use their Shakespeare Festivals as economic multipliers on a grand scale. That means people come to those cities specifically to see these art events, and they purchase hotel rooms and buy gas and go shopping. All that money turns back over into the community at least once and most likely twice.

But more than all that is the honorable notion that a community can provide a platform for artists — young and old — to discuss and then hone their craft.

As a nation, we like to take confidence in our military and economic prowess. And we believe that our ideals — freedom, democracy — are ones that everyone should embrace and adhere to.

But we cannot forget that a great nation also must have its writers and filmmakers and poets.

We, as a nation, don’t spend much time holding our great writers or our great poets up to the limelight. Not anymore. Now the latest celebrity gossip or scandal or newest political battle consumes our attention even as, down deep, we know such events will fade into the white noise of our culture within a fortnight.

But our filmmakers, our writers and poets open doors that reflect our hopes and dreams, our failures and our triumphs. Much of the work of our artists resonates in our souls.

Events like the Eastern Oregon Film Festival deserve our support and, even more important, should be seen for what they are: key building blocks to a future for not just La Grande but all Eastern Oregon.