Alyssa Byrd is an arts appreciator, a mother of two, and a Chatham enthusiast. She also serves as President of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, where she is responsible for implementing strategies to promote and strengthen the economic well-being of Chatham County. This puts her in a unique position to appreciate Chatham from a variety of perspectives, and we were eager to learn more.
With COVID-19 sweeping the nation, we settled for a phone call with Alyssa and enjoyed hearing about her support of the Chatham Arts Council, specifically, the Masks for Many project. We hope you’ll be inspired by her story.
Why did you decide to give to the CAC? Though I think we are a long way off from going back to “normal,” I have thought for a long time that masks are critical in an effort to get us as close to normal as possible. The science and research again and again are proving that. With my position in economic development, I see how critical masks are so that our economy can stabilize and function. I see the disparity in different populations in our county from frontline workers and essential workers getting hit pretty hard, then of course, the struggle to get personal protective equipment. Those supply lines have stabilized at this point, but they’re still fluctuating. The Masks for Many program targets those most in need, helping to make it safe for them to engage in the community.
Why do you feel the Masks for Many project is critical in this county? I think it’s critical because it is a program that’s using an underutilized, but highly valued resource– artists – to fill a public health need. It’s two birds with one stone. You get to support the arts and artists AND you get to support people as they try to regain normal footing in their lives.
What would you say to others who feel there are more important causes to give to? I work at a nonprofit, too, so even in supporting my own organization, I struggle with that. At this point, how do you do fundraising activities and ask people for money? There are great causes – like trying to avert eviction and feeding people – but ultimately at the root of it, people have to have employment and a sense of stasis to have a sense of safety, a safe way to participate in the work force, and engage in commerce if we’re going to get through this as a community. Often times, healthcare is tied to your job. Even your ability to pay for childcare is tied to your job. It’s all so interwoven. Whatever the case is, I think masks are the really the simple way to help people move forward.
Why do you think the arts are valuable in Chatham County? The arts are such an attractive asset to Chatham County. It doesn’t matter where you are in the county. Siler City has an incredible art hub downtown. Pittsboro has its galleries and has woven public art throughout the downtown community. It lends itself to tourism. It lends itself to the education system. If we look at Chatham County’s overall economy, you’ll see that we have a special niche in art and entrepreneurship. We need to value that, appreciate it, and support it.
How does art motivate you or affect you on a daily basis? Fun fact – in high school, my senior superlative was “most artistic.” I’ve always really valued art. When I went through college at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, one of my first semester courses was an art course. I also see how much joy art brings my children. If there’s one thing that always captures their attention, it’s art – drawing, painting, dancing, singing. There are so many ways to engage in art. From a parent’s perspective, art is a great option to engage kids in a super wholesome way, which is a daily struggle now that we’re all at home and desperately need safe entertainment for our children.
Where would you like to see art where it doesn’t exist now? I think there’s a big opportunity to normalize public art programs in the municipalities. We need to have some sort of guidelines and public art plan in place (five, 10 or 20 years) of the different investments we’d like to make to incorporate art into our community. As we improve sidewalks, crosswalks, and install benches, there are cool ways to incorporate art into those mundane public investments that usually go unnoticed. I believe that our town and county governments would like to do this, but I think that making it more intentional as a part of planning and investment could be a really cool, and beneficial thing for Chatham.
If you are inspired by Alyssa’s story and feel compelled to support Chatham County through the Masks for Many project, click here.