by Michelle Goetzl
Stop and think for a moment about art and its importance in our quality of life.
Art makes you think and feel. It draws your attention.
It can help you better understand the people around you. Whether you make art or just appreciate it, both visual and performing arts of all types are an important part of the human spirit.
Lots of big cities boast museums and performing arts centers, something that smaller communities typically cannot do. But Moore County stands out by having the Arts Council of Moore County, a nonprofit which brings a thriving world of art to its residents.
The Arts Council began in 1973 when, according to Executive Director Chris Dunn, “a group of volunteers got together and said, ‘let’s present some arts to kids and to the community,’ and they started the Arts Council.” Since then, the Arts Council has played a role in celebrating both visual and performing artists from the area and beyond while helping the region keep its small-town feeling. Through the showcases of local artists and professional musicians, art tours and youth programming, the Arts Council has made an impact on the community.
The Council has its home at the historic Campbell House in Southern Pines. It is the heart of their visual arts programs with galleries that showcase artwork by local, regional and national artists. The Campbell House is “for everybody and anybody,” according to artist and former employee Kim Sobat. Entrance to Campbell House is by donation only and it is home to their features and sales galleries. The former is so popular among artists wishing to exhibit their work exhibits are currently being scheduled two years in advance. Having a place for local artists is an important part of the Arts Council. “We are really down to one gallery in Southern Pines,” explains Sobat, who was also this year’s Fine Arts Festival winner of both best in show and first place in the painting category. “The Arts Council gives us a place to exhibit our work.”
Not only are The Campbell House and its galleries important for artists, but also for those who visit. “I manage to learn something new every time I go in,” says Kathy Wright, a local Arts Council supporter. “The thing that amazes me is the talent. The creativeness and artistic talent in this area is amazing. I am not artistic, but I love to see other people’s creativity.”
The annual Fine Arts Festival is the Arts Council’s way to provide incentive for artists aged 16 and older to improve their technique as well as a place to showcase and sell their artwork. Founded in 1980, the festival has since grown into a major art exhibit featuring works by artists from all over the country. “Everything entered is hung,” explains Dunn, “unless it is obscene.” The artwork is also judged and cash prizes and ribbons are awarded.
They also have a Young Artists Fine Arts Festival for all students in Moore County in grades K-12. Each school has the opportunity to enter a certain number of students, whose works are judged and awarded in various categories just like the adult festival. This program has been in place for 20 years and children in public, private, charter and even home-schools look forward to it every year.
In the realm of musical arts, The Arts Council brings amazing talents to our little corner of the world through their Classical Concert Series as well as their evening of jazz every February called the Heart ‘n Soul of Jazz.
The 2018-19 season of the Classical Concert Series marks its 37th year with four performances, including one by Moore County’s own Lucas Meacham, a Grammy-winning baritone.
Another way that the Arts Council serves the local population is by organizing and facilitating ARTours to theaters, concerts and art exhibits. From relatively local trips to places like Durham and Charlotte to larger excursions to New York and even Belgium and Holland, the Arts Council does the legwork. While one could travel for art on their own, going with a group often makes the experience more enjoyable.
Kathy Wright and her husband are big fans of the ARTours. This past July they joined a group that visited Asheville, NC to see the “Chihuly at Biltmore” exhibit. “Whether for a one day or extended tour, those are fun trips,” Wright explains. The Arts Council has been an important part of Wright’s quality of life in Moore County. When she and her husband moved to Moore County in 2005 they starting going to opening receptions, which became an important part of their social life. “Every time you go [to an event], it’s like old home week,” Wright says.
Since 1978, the Arts Council has also contributed to small town community building by partnering with the Southern Pines Parks and Recreation Department to put on the Autumnfest Arts and Crafts Festival. Autumnfest is a small festival that is fully contained within the Downtown Southern Pines Park. The festival does not block off any streets, but still provides a world of entertainment. Autumnfest is an event that many in Moore County and beyond look forward to every year. It brings people together to enjoy the arts and the start of the fall season. For athletes, the festival has a 5K race, a one-mile fun walk/run and youth sprint races. Shoppers can wander its approximately 100 booths with local vendors and crafters while enjoying great music and a fun kids’ area.
This year the festival will be held on October 6th from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A small stage will be set up in the park and will feature local band Cousin Amy Deluxe Old Time String Band, a performance of medieval sword fighters by The Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux and the 82nd Airborne Division’s rock band, Rizer Burn. In the Kids’ Zone there will be lots of fun games, but the big attraction this year will definitely be the chance to experience Knockerball facilitated by local company Sandhills Knockerball.
Historically, Autumnfest has featured artists and vendors with a local connection to enhance the down-home feeling. Area dance companies have gotten a chance to shine as well as musicians. As people wander through the park, they are sure to run into someone they know, which is half the fun of going.
A final aspect of how the Arts Council impacts the entire Moore County community is through their youth programming. Since 1981 the Arts Council has partnered with Moore County Schools to present the Performing Arts in Moore Schools program (PAMS). This program has brought in professional performing artists whose work ties into the schools’ curriculum.
“We have brought in storytellers, dancers, musicians and a lot of theater,” explains Dunn. In a time when funding for arts education is constantly being cut, Dunn is proud that “every graduate in Moore County has experienced at least one performance over their educational career.”
Access to the arts is important for all students. Sobat explains that “the visual and performing arts sort of level the playing field. No matter what your socio-economic background, everyone can enjoy and understand the arts.” Sobat has experienced this firsthand. Not only is she a visual artist herself, but she was the programming director at the Arts Council for many years, often working with students.
At one point, there were not many options for local kids to get acting experience, so the Arts Council started a youth theater program. Bradley Gibson, the latest to play Simba in The Lion King on Broadway, was one of many to go through Arts Council programming. Now that more schools have theater programs, the Arts Council has taken a smaller role, but still welcomes the Missoula Children’s Theater program every fall and partners with Sandhills Community College to offer summer camps in theater arts.
Supporter Kitti Pyne sums it up perfectly – “I believe the arts are essential to a full and complete community life. I think the importance of the Arts Council of Moore County to our community is that it educates and enriches our lives through its programming.”