In 2014, when Craig Stinson started Arts in Wilmington as a mere newsletter, with the first edition reaching a handful of people, the scope of its evolution wasn’t clearly apparent. Having worked for national organizations and in the arts field—with The Smithsonian, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Library of Congress, even The Alamo—he knew the Port City was thriving in visual and performance arts, and he wanted to apply some of what he learned elsewhere to his hometown.
As the newsletter grew, he began doing meetups at galleries and other spaces that would bring together artists, professionals and advocates to exchange ideas, gather info, network and learn about what’s happening on a local level. “While it is easier than ever to learn about arts resources and people,” Stinson says, referring to publications, social media and organizations locally and regionally, “I believe it is still essential to have opportunities for personal interaction.” This week he will host a meetup at the Leland Cultural Arts Center on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m.
“The Leland Cultural Arts Center is an amazing facility established and managed by the Town of Leland,” Stinson notes. “It has visual art and pottery studios, a performing arts space, exhibition space, and a retail outlet. We will meet the director and staff and learn how the facility is funded and managed.”
Among growth for the newsletter and meetups, Stinson also has switched the name Arts in Wilmington to Arts Friendly Wilmington. He worked with an intellectual property attorney to establish a certification trademark, just in the same fashion products are labeled “non GMOs” or businesses are officially marked as members of the Better Business Bureau.
“Arts Friendly takes the same framework and has established criteria for businesses that show evidence of support for the arts community and agree with Arts Friendly values,” Stinson explains.
They must meet criteria including creativity, vision, discipline, bravery, and friendliness, as well as remain engaged by giving cash or in-kind donations to local arts groups, or donate volunteer time, like membership on a board of directors, or make space available for artists or arts groups, or show other ways of support. “We started certifying businesses in March,” he tells. “We now have 25 businesses that have achieved certified Arts Friendly status.”
The visual marker of being Arts Friendly helps unify and solidify the impact of the arts on a community and showcases such through branding and marketing recognition. Thus, consumers know which businesses to support and connect with to keep strengthening its impact and sometimes in ways they don’t even see. For instance, Wilmington Wine is certified Arts Friendly, so when customers buy a bottle of vino from the Castle Street shop, they’re actually helping owner John Willse continue allowing wall space for artists to showcase their work. Plus, Willse serves on the Big Dawg Productions board of directors, so, essentially they’re supporting the role he plays in the six or more shows Big Dawg produces each season.
Just as well, Star Sosa’s Spectrum Jewelry is certified. Thus, when anyone buys jewelry at Spectrum, they are enabling Sosa to continue hosting 25 artists from around NC to participate in a plain-air event hosted during the Azalea Fest Garden Tour.
“It gives visitors an idea of local support for the arts and allows them to make decisions during their visit on where to stay, eat, shop, and experience arts events,” Stinson says.
Most importantly, the paid certification helps keep Arts Friendly Wilmington going. It funds the continuous growth of the newsletter, extensive arts calendar on their website, host meetups, and hold their annual awards program. In fact, Sosa is a recipient in the business category for Spectrum Fine Jewelry for 2018. The awards program will take place January 20 at Expo 216. Other recipients include artist Ashley Barnes, the Opera House Theatre Company nonprofit theatre group, local choreographer Tracey Varga, and the Leland Cultural Arts Center.
“The award is modeled on the Verner Awards for the Arts given annually by the South Carolina Arts Commission,” Stinson tells. He worked at the commission seven years as director of their Folklife and Traditional Arts program. He secured permission to replicate the system here, wherein the community nominates possible recipients and a panel of out-of-town judges who aren’t tied to the businesses and people choose strictly from the applications on who wins.
“The panel process is important,” Stinson says. “It removes the decision process from local influence and also exposes the good work of our local arts community to people of influence outside of Wilmington.”
The awards welcomed 175 attendees last year in its inauguration; this year he hopes to exceed it.
Looking to the future, Stinson wants to grow the Arts Friendly Wilmington brand. Today the newsletter features originally written content, like Arts Friendly Wilmington profiles—on artists, advocates and professionals—a snapshot of the calendar, a list of certified businesses, and more. As well, he wants to increase certified businesses to help increase exposure for our own arts and arts resources.
“Wilmington has an extensive amount of arts activity relative to others towns of our size,” he tells. “We really are a top-tier arts community on a national level.”
Even more importantly, he wants to expand it into an Arts Friendly Foundation to fuel local arts organizations by raising money for them. “The funds generated would be given to local qualified arts organizations as ‘operational’ or ’undesignated’ support,” he notes. “This means the funds could be used for whatever moves their mission forward.”
To learn more, subscribe to the Arts Friendly Wilmington newsletter at www.artsinwilmington.com.