He also tells us this year’s winners.Listen to our interview with Craig Stinson above, and read our extended conversation below.
Craig: I’m the creator of Arts in Wilmington. It’s a local calendar of arts; multidisciplinary arts events, auditions, opportunities, calls for artists at ArtsinWilmington.com. We send out our newsletter every Thursday as well, it goes out to a couple thousand people.
Gina: And this is your second year of having the Arts in Wilmington awards?
Craig: Yeah, we’re really excited about this. There’s such a great creative community here in Wilmington across the board, across disciplines; theater and dance and visual and film. And this gives us a platform for recognizing people in organizations. I copied it from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the colleagues I used to work with there. They’ve been doing this format since the ’70s, so it works, and they said go for it. There are six categories. There is Individual Artist, there is Organization- which is arts organization in particular- Government is a category, Business/Foundation is a category, Arts in Education, and then the final one is Individual Advocate. So that’s somebody who’s a board member or somebody who makes things happen in the arts community.
Gina: And you have your winners for this year?
Craig: We do.
Gina: Do you want to tell us who they are?
Craig: Yes. So the applications were due in the spring and we sent them to a panel of people outside of Wilmington who have their own expertise in different areas of the arts. So their decisions were: the Individual Artist is Ashley Barnes and she’s a local dancer and choreographer. She impressed the panel because she has a really creative way of taking a lot of different disciplines and artistic practices and pulling them all together. So she’s an instructor. She does productions. I mean, it’s just quite amazing.
Gina: She does costuming I think.
Craig: Costuming, yeah. She’s a trained visual studio artist as well.
Gina: I think I’ve seen puppets that she’s made.
Craig: She does puppetry. They do kind of voiceover narration. It’s really kind of interesting all the work that she brings together when she does her production. So that’s the individual artist. Organization this year is Opera House Theatre Company. We’re a town that’s very strong in community theater but Opera House Theater Company is one of the premier ones in town. They had a really strong application and this is in recognition of 35 years worth of work that they’ve been doing here in Wilmington.The Government award can go to pretty much anybody; elected officials, someone who works for a municipality. But this one actually goes to the Leland Cultural Arts Center. The town of Leland in the past five or eight years has embarked on a program where they purchased a building and turned it into a multi use arts center. Now it’s up and running and it’s really a spectacular facility. They do pottery there. They have visual arts. They have a performing arts space. They have a full staff of people who are proficient in arts administration. So they’re very much sticking to their mission. They have a gallery and retail space for artists as well. They see it as economic development for Leland as well and it complements the types of amenities that people from other communities- be it Ohio or northeast- were used to and would expect here in their new homes as well. So it’s working well.The Business recipient is Star Sosa with Spectrum Fine Jewelry. Star is really interesting. She’s been around for 20 years. She was downtown. Her business is on the creative side- jewelry, fine jewelry but also custom. She’s a person who goes out and makes things happen as well. Early on she started gallery walks here in Wilmington with other galleries in her new location out in the Forum. She had a gallery that was straight up for visual artists and was associated with that for a while and then she’s also started a new program with the Azalea Festival- the garden tour, where plane air artists to go into these gardens and paint. And then they’re doing a sale as well so the artists get their work recognized and Wilmington gets to highlight itself through that community effort as well.The individual advocate this year is Tracey Varga. Tracy is one of those persons- this is another dancer, so I’m interested that we have to dance people this year- but Tracy really makes things happen. If there’s somebody in town who has a kind of a core spoke in the wheel of making stuff happen, she’s it. She does an amazing Cape Fear Arts in Motion event at Thalian Hall every year where they really highlight up and coming emerging dancers in town and bring in guest choreographers. And then she does another program, Art Sensation. And that is also a lot of different artists and dancers in the community getting together and doing work and selling tickets and then it benefiting a nonprofit in town as well. So social services or some other entity outside of the arts. It’s really using the arts to benefit other efforts in our community that are helping people.
Gina: And then you didn’t get any nominations for Arts Education?
Craig: This year we didn’t get a nomination, so we’re not giving it out. The applications will go online after this gets finished through the spring. So anybody who works in arts in education. And that can be at the university level or at K-12 as well, or individual people. Anybody who is an instructor would qualify in that category.
Gina: So tell me about the party.
Craig: The party. So you know, it was funny when I was talking with people at the South Carolina Arts Commission I said, “How do you do it?” and they said, “Well, we did a sit down dinner. You know, a dress up event for a number of years and we just got tired of it.” I said, “So what do you do now?” and they said, “We just throw a party.” So that’s what everybody wants. Everybody’s there to mingle with the recipients. They want to meet each other because it’s one time during the year where you can bring really diverse groups together from different disciplines and they’re all there because they love the arts and they love Wilmington and how the arts impact the community. Once you get there we give you a name tag so you get to know who everybody is, network with people, get you a beer, wine, eat some food. The first hour is really dedicated to that and then between seven and seven thirty we’ll give out the awards so you get to meet each of the individuals and groups that are receiving the awards.
Gina: Are the awards a certificate or is a statue?
Craig: It’s a physical award. It’s not a certificate and it’s not a statue either. They’re kind of teardrop shaped, kind of darker with white impression on them. They look really pretty.
Gina: How are the winners chosen?
Craig: We do it a little different. I take three people that I know through my arts administration network who are not in Wilmington. It’s very conscious. We want people who aren’t here. So the three people this year were Mike Williams who runs a site called Arts Now out of Raleigh. They do a lot of coverage in the arts community up that way. That’s actually a subdivision of News and Observer. Sarah Bryan, who is a person I’ve known for years who works in public programming and in the arts as well. She runs the North Carolina Folk Life Institute up in Durham. And then another person, her name is Jessica Turner, and she’s the curator and director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee. She was recommended to me through a network I had.
They all did very thoughtful work reviewing the applications and the way we did it, we said one: Do they qualify? Does this work in this category? And two: Who’s the best out of the applicants you have? So their decision was the decision. We really removed it from Wilmington and it is based on the merit and quality of each applicant.
Gina: Do you want to tell me anything else that’s going on with Arts in Wilmington?
Craig: Well, Arts in Wilmington is a newsletter. It goes out every week- it’s electronic- it goes out to almost 2,000 people every Thursday at 6:30. And it’s really about as comprehensive an art specific calendar as you can get in Wilmington. It includes events that are coming up but also meetings from arts organizations and auditions that are coming up for the theater community and calls for artists for the visual arts community. It’s across the board job opportunities that are coming up around the state as well.
Gina: And you have a presence on Facebook as well.
Craig: Yeah, so you can go to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. At any of those it’s @ArtsWilmington. Facebook’s got 4,600 people or so. So it’s pretty active. We post a lot of the activities happening here in town.