There’s the surface level stuff—he’s a progressive committed to LGBT and racial equality, a firm supporter and leader of our city’s sense of community and cultural growth, and a savvy administrator who has proven his ability to bring both imagination and expertise to the management of one of our city’s largest and most prominent non-profit arts organizations.
If we dig a little deeper, I might point to his keen awareness of how interconnected the arts are with not just the cultural but economic growth of a city, or that he has an impressive record of envisioning what kind of city he wants to live in and then setting about actually creating that city through his leadership of the Nickelodeon Theatre and Indie Grits. That he’s proven to be inquisitive and engaged with important conversations about city planning and urban development as he’s continued that work, and that he brings a wealth of experience to the table through his experience with national groups like the Ford Foundation and Nord Family Foundation and serving on boards like the national Art House Convergence and National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC).
And all of that is important—values, vision, and experience. Who are you? What do you specifically plan to do? And how able are you to do it? That’s essentially the three questions of any political campaign. Or any other job interview for that matter.
However, Smith’s opponent in the November 17th run-off has his own qualifications, including a similar set of values, a long history with working in (and leading) municipal governments, and his own clear vision of the kind of role he would take up on the council. So why do I so ardently believe Smith is the superior choice?
It comes down, quite simply, to scale. Andy’s campaign slogan is “Think Big,” a phrase which strikes at the heart of his appeal. He believes, fundamentally, in creating grand, imaginative concepts and then executing them to the best of your ability. The Nick and Indie Grits are prime examples of this, of course. Before Andy, the former was a tiny niche art house theatre and the latter didn’t exist at all. Now, The Nick has grown by leaps and bounds as it has launched new education initiatives and programming ventures while reimagining the role of a community cinema in the 21st century. With Indie Grits, he began a quirky film festival focused on DIY filmmaking in the Southeast and then grew it into a nationally recognized multi-disciplinary arts event that draw submissions from across the country. That both also make huge economic impacts and are key parts of the Main Street revitalization just sweetens the pot.
I want to stress, though, that what’s key here is the way Smith both dreams big and in imaginative ways, and then makes things happen, not just his arts organization prowess. That’s an ability that will cut across all of the issues our city faces, from economic growth to quality of life to maintaining basic services. Andy is not going to simply settle for the status quo, for what’s minimally adequate, or for whatever we’ve done in the past. He’s going to ask ‘what’s the best version of this we can imagine?’ That’s the kind of vision and attitude that I want, and that we need collectively as a community, on City Council.
I implore you, registered voters of Columbia, to go out and vote not just to get a smart, forward-thinking candidate like Andy Smith elected. Go out and vote for the idea that truly is a “best future” for Columbia out there.
Kyle Petersen is Assistant Editor of Jasper Magazine