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Telling the story of N.C.'s internationally-renowned music festival

A note from us

Hi, Emily and Nation here with this week’s edition of Awake58. If you missed last week’s, you can read it by clicking here.

EdNC released its first full-length documentary about MerleFest… Lessons learned from the Pillowtex mill closure 20 years ago… An update on SB692 and community college governance…

Last week, EdNC team members attended Wilkes Community College’s 35th MerleFest – the college’s internationally-renowned music festival and fundraiser. During the four-day event, EdNC released our first full-length documentary about the festival. The documentary, created by Robert Kinlaw, is the story of MerleFest, the people who make the event happen, and the community that has emerged through the years. The documentary has been years in the making. EdNC’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief Mebane Rash said about the festival: 

We believe in stories – and this is the best untold story in North Carolina.

We believe in leadership – and this is a story about the leadership of a horticulture teacher, Doc Watson and his family, the community college, the MerleFest team, and the community.

We believe in impact – not just the impact of this music festival on this community college and this community, but on music as we know and enjoy it across America today.

Check out photos from this year’s event and stream the documentary here. 

In March, Pactiv Evergreen announced the imminent closure of Canton’s paper mill. The closure will lead to mass layoffs. Two decades ago, the Pillowtex Corp. based in Kannapolis shut down – impacting 4,800 North Carolinians. As Canton braces for the future, EdNC’s Alessandra Quattrocchi shares lessons learned from that 2003 Pillowtex Corp. closure.

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday to discuss SB692  – a bill that would overhaul community college governance in North Carolina. The bill will now go before the rules committee today at 2 p.m. You can view our previous reporting about SB692 here. Stay tuned for more. 

We’ll see you out on the road –

Emily and Nation

EdNC reads

“My Name Is Merle” documents western N.C.’s internationally-renowned music festival

This is the 35th year the grounds of Wilkes Community College have been used to host MerleFest, an internationally-renowned music festival and fundraiser.

It’s also the year EdNC released a full-length documentary about the festival and the community that is the heart and spirit of it.

Spend time wandering stage aisles and tent-lined paths, and you’ll understand why the festival tagline is “Music, Moments, and Memories.”

And while music may be the common draw for people, what has transpired through the years is an experience that nurtures deep roots and repeat attendees. Check out photos from this year’s MerleFest here. 

In its most simple form, “My Name Is Merle” is a story of connection. In the faces and lives of those who show up year after year, the documentary gives voice to a festival that has continued to shape a region for more than three decades.

The hour-long documentary weaves together a narrative of music, community, and experiences. It bookmarks the history of the festival and the people through the years who have made it the success it is today.

You’ll hear from musical artists who credit Doc Watson for shaping their understanding of traditional American music. Voices of past and present festival directors who describe the impact of the event. Some of the faces of the more than 4,500 volunteers are scattered throughout. And of course, the fans. Those who travel 5 miles or more than 5,000 miles to experience a community rooted in music. Music –  that in many ways, grounds us, connects us, and speaks for us when we aren’t quite sure what to say.

You can watch “My Name Is Merle,” produced by Mebane Rash and Robert Kinlaw, here.

Lessons learned from the Pillowtex mill closure

The March 6 announcement of the imminent closure of the paper mill in Canton, North Carolina, owned by Pactiv Evergreen, sent shock waves through the local community and the state at large. The Canton mill has been in operation for over a century in Haywood County and has sustained generations of local mill workers.

The mill’s closure will leave many North Carolinians unemployed and fearful for their future. The state is preparing response strategies to serve community members before the mill’s last days in June, looking to the past to inform next steps in the present.

The closure of the Canton mill is a tragedy for North Carolina, but it is not the first of its kind.

The 2003 bankruptcy of Pillowtex Corp., based in Kannapolis, resulted in the single largest mass layoff in the state’s history. About 4,800 North Carolina workers lost their jobs following the Cannon Mills closure, and another 430 employees were laid off as a direct result. Most of these workers were concentrated in Cabarrus and Rowan counties. Communities founded on the mill’s production of household textile products were suddenly left purposeless.

A stark difference between the closure of the Cannon and Canton mills is the shock factor that was induced by each announcement. Pillowtex Corp. had been spiraling long before the July 30, 2003 announcement of the company’s cessation of operations, and employees had been worried for the mill’s longevity since the company’s first bankruptcy filing in November of 2000.

Click here to read the full story.

Around NC

The N.C. Community College System’s (NCCCS) System Advisory Council will meet virtually on May 4 at 10 a.m. to discuss the NCCCS ERP modernization. The meeting is open to the public and will be livestreamed on the System’s YouTube channel. 

The State Board of Proprietary Schools will hold a virtual meeting on May 5. The State Board of Community Colleges licenses proprietary schools in N.C. You can view more here. 

The Foothills Regional Commission is preparing a five-year, comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) for the four-county region of Cleveland, McDowell, Polk, and Rutherford counties. If you live within this region, the commission is asking residents to fill out a 10-minute survey with their input. The survey will remain open until May 5. Read more here. 

College of the Albemarle’s Foundation received $100,000 for Sentara Scholars. The financial assistance will be available to eligible students pursuing degrees of certifications in health-related fields.

At a recent WGU North Carolina Board of Advisors meeting, Chancellor Ben Coulter announced that Jon Armke, WGU graduate and lead instructor for Ethical Hacking at Wake Technical Community College, joined WGU’s board.

Blue Ridge Community College will launch eight new programs this fall. You can view the list of new programs here. 

Dr. Margaret I. Kanipes, dean of the new honors college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, recently received the William C. Friday Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments. The award is named for William C. “Bill” Friday, the first president of the consolidated University of North Carolina.

The JoCo Commissioners Promise Program at Johnston Community College (JCC) is expanding to include tuition assistance for up to two academic years for 2023 high school graduates. The program will also now allocate second year funding for eligible 2022 JoCo Commissioners Promise Program recipients.

Cape Fear Community College exceeded its goal to raise $1 million for nursing scholarships, the college announced last week. The funds will provide an additional 52 nursing scholarships for students, bringing the total number of nursing scholarships to approximately 130 per year.

Other higher education reads

Rural Community College Excellence: A Guide to Delivering Strong Opportunities for Students and Communities

The Aspen Institute released a guide highlighting four approaches to promote success at rural community colleges. The guide includes strategies for promoting economic mobility, enrolling and retaining students, building partnerships to resource student success, and utilizing a rural college’s small size. The full document can be found here. 

To view more of EdNC’s reporting on rural community colleges in North Carolina and the Belk Center’s Rural College Leaders Program, click here. 

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.