Published first at Southport Magazine by Bonnie Bray
It’s no secret to people who have lived in Southport or Oak Island for any length of time the area has a thriving arts scene. Live music, art galleries, community theatre, you name it, there is no shortage of variety and no lack of enthusiastic supporters.
However, something that has been missing until now is a unifying vision of the whole. A new non-profit group called Up Your Arts seeks to add that perspective. Its focus is not just performing arts, or visual arts, or dramatic arts – UYA’s mission is to create a network linking all of the above.
“There is so much happening that it’s difficult to keep track of the big picture,” UYA President Shannon Ballard said. “Established associations here do a terrific job of supporting their individual members, but the entire artistic experience can be overwhelming without a guide.”
Not surprisingly, given her focus on organization, Ballard brings a background in event planning to Up Your Arts. She is joined on the board of directors by eight other local residents, whose professional experience spans a range of disciplines, artistic and otherwise.
“Several members of the board play in local bands now, but they come from careers in real estate, retail photography, software security, and emergency medicine,” Ballard laughed.
“And we have a pottery instructor, who is also a writer and trained vocalist; a former sacred dancer, who is now a healing arts educator; and an ‘A-list’ blues guitarist, who makes, repairs, and teaches stringed instruments. It’s quite the collection!”
What brought the group together last fall was shared appreciation for the local arts environment and a mutual desire for sustaining its success. Founding board member and UYA Creative Director John Keiffer identified a variety of ways the board is moving ahead toward that goal.
“Our first step was to create a digital clearinghouse and calendar for artists and musicians to advertise their work and post their events,” Keiffer said. “We want our media presence to be a one-stop shop for all things art.”
Over 2,100 people have joined a related Facebook group called Southport Area Music & Arts that is administered by Up Your Arts. It links to the UYA Facebook page, which was inaugurated only recently. The website launched last month, https://www.upyourarts.org, already has weekly calendars of live music performances through the end of the year, with maps and hyperlinks to venue websites, and information about upcoming events.
“Then we started working with the City of Southport to bring back the outdoor painting event it sponsored a few years ago,” Keiffer continued. “At this point, we are expecting to host at least 50 artists at our 2018 Southport Plein Air Festival September 14-15. And, on August 4, we are participating in a relatively new event called Jam Rock, which celebrates Jamaica Independence Day with Caribbean food and reggae music on Dosher Cutoff, right here at home.”
Yet to come, but eagerly anticipated, he said, are public campaigns for arts-related issues, outreach and partnerships with other non-profit and charitable organizations, and tangible efforts to further entrepreneurial and educational projects through grants and donations.
These and other ideas are envisioned in the group’s mission statement (see sidebar), along with recognition of the group’s close ties to the Southport Center, Brunswick Community College’s campus on Lord Street. According to UYA Board Chair Ken Schnedetz, many of the founding members are either employed or have taken classes there, and all support its abundance of hands-on arts instruction.
“The college is at a crossroads now, with funding to renovate the whole building fully committed by the county and college trustees,” Schnedetz said. “While construction to complete the second half of the building forges ahead, Up Your Arts strongly advocates the creation of spaces that will expand the in-depth arts programming that is already succeeding there.”
Schnedetz met with Southport Center Executive Director Barbara McFall and City of Southport officials this spring for a tour of the facility. Well known to local residents, the structure is the former Brunswick County Training School, which opened in 1921 and remained for thirty years the only high school in Brunswick County black students could attend.
“Our investment in the arts is inseparable from our investment in the community and its entire history, “ Schnedetz said. “What is ‘art’ anyway, but a record? Our feelings, our hopes, imagined in a way that makes sense of what has come before. This kind of expression is essential to our mental wellbeing. Celebrating its free reign is critical to our collective health.”
Shannon has over a decade of experience producing conferences, festivals and other special events for organizations as diverse as Microsoft and the Country Music Association. This experience led her to Washington, DC, with an invitation to join the planning and execution team for the 2009 presidential inauguration. Now a resident of Southport, Shannon devotes her professional time to small business consulting. Her extensive organizational skills and her lifetime passion for the arts make her a critical asset to the success of Up Your Arts.
After many years of visiting the Brunswick County coast, Ken relocated permanently last year from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Oak Island, where he pursues his lifelong passion as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Ken built a successful real estate firm in Charlotte, Shell Realty Services, specializing in property management and sales. He also has extensive knowledge of contract negotiations and restaurant brokerage. His musical talent is currently on display at local performance venues, where he also frequently hosts open mic sessions. He is strongly committed to supporting and promoting the arts through Up Your Arts.
Shawn is the founding member of The Groove Pirates, a local band well known and appreciated by area musicians. It is not unusual at any given performance to see him play guitar, mandolin and keyboards, and then switch to drums, bass and vocals. A self-taught sound engineer, he enjoys over 25 years of experience in event production, aided and abetted by a background as a professional photographer. Originally from New England, Shawn owned and operated a photography business there for 20 years. He now resides in Southport and brings a wide range of talents to Up Your Arts.
John began playing guitar as a boy, picking blue grass tunes in the mountains of North Carolina with friends and family. He later developed a unique style of performance and showmanship as a blues musician. A guitar virtuoso, John toured and recorded professionally for years, appearing on stage with nationally known “A-list” musicians. He currently sells, repairs and consigns quality stringed instruments and related equipment from his guitar shop at Southport Johnnies, where he also paints and teaches a variety of instruments. He performs regularly with Southport Johnny and the Bizness and fills the role of elder musical statesman for Up Your Arts.
Carla is a classically trained vocalist, pottery artist and freelance writer. She moved to Boiling Spring Lakes in 2005 and became active with the Associated Artists of Southport the following year. She is currently a pottery instructor at the Southport campus of Brunswick Community College, a vocalist with The Groove Pirates Band, and assistant editor for Southport and Leland Magazines, for which she also writes the Art Beat, a monthly column featuring local artists and crafts people. Up Your Arts is a natural extension of her ongoing immersion in this area’s numerous arts communities.
John is a local musician, graphic artist, and painter, who retired to Southport after a career as a paramedic in the Washington, DC, area, where he also taught college and organized large- and small-scale public events, including a series of cutting-edge arts festivals. This wide-ranging experience, coupled with an academic career in theological studies, successful occupations as a youth minister and a residential builder in Boston, informs John’s delight with connecting dots. Since moving here in 2010, he has cemented his passion for the creative and performing arts with his graphic design studio at Southport Johnnies and as the quintessential ambassador for Up Your Arts.
Bonnie brings an abiding appreciation for the arts to this endeavor. She is a writer, amateur photographer, and novice potter, with a 25-year career as the chief financial officer for local governments in Maryland and North Carolina. This focus has given her direct experience managing the details of community engagement with public and private resources, many specializing in arts-related outcomes. Bonnie sees Up Your Arts as a vital link between artists and their audiences — and the contributions both make to the quality of life in this area.
Michael is native to the Southport/Oak Island area, with over 20 years of experience as a guitarist and an audio recording engineer. During this time, he has been in a unique position to develop his craft with some of the best working musicians in the area, and, as such, brings a finely tuned local perspective to Up Your Arts. Michael is currently a specialist in computer software security, having spent the bulk of his professional life in the information technology industry. Michael’s talents in this arena are generously dedicated to the success of Up Your Arts.
Diana brought her love of dance to Southport two years ago, after decades as a teacher and performer with the Sacred Dance Guild of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and other dance societies in Connecticut and Greensboro, North Carolina. Diana’s professional accomplishments also include years as a cast member with “The Lost Colony,” the nation’s longest running outdoor drama about Roanoke Island, in addition to owning a dance and yoga studio in Nags Head. She now teaches yoga in Southport and practices at Hearts and Sol Wellness on Oak Island. Up Your Arts is well served by Diana’s deep engagement with dance and the healing arts.
Up Your Arts is a non-profit organization founded in 2017 to support and enhance the creative and performing arts throughout the greater Southport area. There is indeed much to promote. Live music, numerous galleries and shops, festivals and community events, established theater groups, a college campus focused on the arts, the quaint and picturesque location of numerous film productions . . . The Southeast Coast of North Carolina continues to emerge as a regional destination focused on the arts.
The mission of Up Your Arts is simple:
To promote all of the artful, musical and theatrical events throughout the area
To support the mission of the Southport Center of Brunswick Community College in offering the best hands-on learning opportunities in the arts
To encourage all interested musicians and artists in their entrepreneurial and educational efforts
To promote the creation of new and dynamic venues, events and festivals to round out the artistic offerings which currently exist
To advocate strongly for the art community and pursue every opportunity for
advocacy in the public realm
To leverage our membership in supporting associated community non-profit organizations
To do the work necessary to ensure the success of regional art, music, dance and theater