Around the time The North Carolina Arboretum began its existence in the 1980s, a popular television program entitled “thirtysomething” examined the makeover of baby boomers, from youth to yuppies. It highlighted the many societal changes that the baby boomer population was experiencing, and creating. Many things were changing around the time of this generation’s 30th birthday.
A staff member recently shared with me that an upcoming “decadal” birthday (celebrating an age ending in zero) was causing them angst. Time passing by the tens often does that to us.
Organizations are no different. As the Arboretum marks its 30th birthday this month, we find ourselves in that funny place where we still seem young, but the scale, activity level and infrastructure continue to approach a more mature state. We might think of it as a “makeover year” too – a time of replacement for the outdated and worn: new communication systems, renovated gardens, expanded data capacity, updated interiors, new walkways and other upgrades.
But like yuppies, we are growing new, more mature interests: expanded youth programs that reach more than 25,000 youth annually; adult education programs serving more than 5,000 adults per year; hosting more than 50,000 Winter Lights participants over two years; protecting 2,000 seed accessions in the Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository seed bank; and now, working with natural products companies worldwide. We have begun to offer more products and services while escalating the quality and capacity of our financial and personnel systems.
In spite of the focus on transition that year 30 has wrought, this is also a time of looking back with gratitude for all those who helped us along the way:
- The U. S. Forest Service for providing the use of the land we enjoy
- The North Carolina General Assembly for enabling and resourcing this imaginative idea
- The UNC system for the unique and valuable model of independent affiliation
- The State of North Carolina for providing the legal and administrative framework
- Community leaders and agencies who believe in us, provide guidance and contribute resources
- Hundreds of former and current employees, board members and volunteers
- Collaborating organizations, community partners and event sponsors
- Generous donors, both large and small
- Parents and students
- Guest lecturers and exhibitors
During the past 30 years, we have garnered a mountain of support without which, we would not have achieved such an international posture so quickly. We remain humbled by the magnitude of that broad, deep and sustained commitment.
In the midst of all that has transpired over these 30 years now stands an already nationally-known sculptural image of Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. At about the age of 30, Mr. Olmsted embarked on the successful design and implementation of Central Park in New York City and initiated a career and legacy that transformed the urban landscape, national and state parks, and the federal agencies for forests and parks that we enjoy today. It was the attention to training, travel and experience before age 30 that greatly empowered Olmsted for the career we now know so well.
His iconic image at the heart of the Arboretum, holding an abstract plan and looking out – eyeing the future thoughtfully – is symbolic of both the man and this place. At an unveiling event this past April, one of our thoughtful supporters offered the question, “What time is this place?”
Like Olmsted at 30, we stand at an intersection of institutional and societal change at an age where we can be a contributing force.
And like Olmsted, The North Carolina Arboretum has equipped itself for that role.