Barbara-lyn Belcher Morris was one of the founding members of the A! Magazine Committee, and for several years she wrote a monthly column, “Traveling and the Arts.” At that time, she was the wife of Tom Morris, the president at Emory & Henry College. We asked her friend and colleague Dirk Moore, the executive director of the McGlothlin Center for the Arts at Emory & Henry, to reflect on her life and her interest in the arts.
To advocate for the arts is to advocate for their profound power for good. The art world of Southwest Virginia lost recently one of its most passionate, optimistic and effective adherents to this belief.
From her first days in 1992 as the wife of Emory & Henry College President Tom Morris, Barbara-lyn Belcher recognized that the arts played a critical role in, not only the future of Emory & Henry College, but also in the future of the region. She knew then, perhaps like no other arts advocate at the time, that a region rich in history and beauty was the perfect gallery to exhibit the creative capacity of a people. She became a relentless pursuer of the arts and artists of the region, seeking endlessly to promote them and to strengthen their brand as part of Southwest Virginia.
At Emory & Henry, she connected the people and events of the college to a multitude of artists from the region and beyond. Through these connections she sought to solidify the institution’s impressive traditions in music, theater and the visual arts. She ignited the engines that brought Emory & Henry and Barter Theatre together in an ongoing collaboration. She inspired the development of an art gallery at the college and the enhancement of its permanent art collections. She encouraged the creation of the College’s Division of Visual and Performing Arts, establishing Emory & Henry as a regional leader in the arts. In almost everything the college planned, dreamed or celebrated, Barbara-lyn brought the arts to the discussion, creating opportunities to showcase the artistic strengths of students, faculty members and area residents.
Today I serve as the executive director of the McGlothlin Center for the Arts, a spectacular facility that was constructed after Barbara-lyn left the college, but which very much is a tribute to her hard work and commitment to the arts. I also find myself very much engaged in economic development activities that inevitably rely to a great degree on the arts in defining the positive qualities of this region to the rest of the world. In these roles, I turned to Barbara-lyn for valuable advice, necessary encouragement and some healthy, loving criticism.
She was persistence personified. She put inexhaustible energy behind ideas and people who were working on behalf of the arts. As a result, she made an enormous difference for her true home of Southwest Virginia.
These are challenging times for the arts. If she were with us today, however, Barbara-lyn would not dwell on difficulties. Instead she would challenge those who believe in the arts to rely on their creative potential and their shared belief in the immense power of the arts. She would then delight in the vast difference we would make.
Dirk Moore is the executive director of the McGlothlin Center for the Arts at Emory & Henry. He came to teach in Emory & Henry College’s Department of Mass Communications in 1993, the year after Barbara-lyn Belcher began serving as the College’s “first volunteer,” a role she filled until 2006.