At the beginning of every new year, we check in with the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County (ACWNHC) to find out how our fair city is doing in the realm of supporting local artists and growing the arts as a viable economic boost to our area. 2019 was a great year for the council and also for its executive director Rhonda Bellamy, who was recognized among the Leadership Fellows at Cucalorus 20 for her continuous role in helping shape Wilmington’s artistic growth. In 2019 she also began hosting WHQR’s “Around Town with Rhonda Bellamy” (a nice tip of the hat to her roots in radio 20 years ago).
“My business acumen, coupled with my involvement in the arts—as cofounder of the Black Arts Alliance and the North Carolina Black Film Festival; on Cameron Art Museum’s board of directors twice; as founding instructor at the Dreams Center for Arts Education—had equal billing in preparing me for my role at the council,” Bellamy says.
Aside from keeping a hefty schedule at the council, she helps promote events in 5-minute interviews for HQR News (91.3FM), which air Fridays at 9:01 a.m. and 3:01 p.m., as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 7:01 a.m., 1:01 p.m. and 6:01 p.m. Bellamy and and the council also host events aplenty throughout the year, including the Fourth Friday Gallery Walks. Participating galleries stay open ‘til 9 p.m. and promote special exhibitions featuring various artists. New venues, like Gallery Citrine and Silver Hammer, have signed up for the first walk of 2020, taking place January 24.
“We’re also getting more inquiries from other businesses that see the influx of art lovers into downtown Wilmington on Fourth Fridays,” Bellamy tells. “We hope to wrap up the [full list of] 2020 participants early next week.”
One of the galleries is ACES, overseen by Bellamy. The gallery is located at 221 N. Front St. and acts as the storefront for the council’s headquarters. “In 2019, we featured 35 artists,” Bellamy says. The council also showcased 25 artists on display at ACES Gallery at the local airport, ILM. Their 12th exhibition will come down this month as officials have agreed to expand the gallery as ILM also expands.
“What we need are more marketing dollars specifically for the arts,” according to Bellamy. “We regularly hear from visitors to the area that they ‘happened upon’ Wilmington’s arts scene.”
The dollars would be well-spent, considering the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences. The Arts & Economic Prosperity (EAP) in 2017, overseen by the council in partnership with the City of Wilmington, comprehensively “found the nonprofit sector had a $55.8 million impact, employing 2,076, and generating $5.6 million in local and state tax revenues.” Such numbers impress, and paired with the number of theaters, galleries and artists of all disciplines, Bellamy says it proves Wilmington rivals larger cities.
Among many goals the council is preparing for in 2020 is an updated EAP report, plus projects that will continue to develop our arts scene. One is the push for more murals as part of the council’s Pedestrian Art program. PedArt has overseen the installation of 10 to 12 temporary sculptures in downtown Wilmington.
“We want the program to reflect both sculptures and murals and include our entire service area—all of New Hanover County,” Bellamy tells. She and Wilmington Downtown Inc.’s executive director, Ed Wolverton, already are working together to come up with a plan to present to the City of Wilmington, which has frowned upon the allowance of murals in the past. “Murals are considered signs, so it will be necessary to abide by the city’s sign ordinance,” Bellamy informs.
The city already has given support to ACWNHC’s biggest accomplishment of 2019: Wilmington Rail Trail. The project consists of converting the old Atlantic Coast Line rail bed, from downtown to McRae Street, into green space, public arts and event space, and a pedestrian pathway.
“It’s our top priority in 2020: developing the master plan for the Wilmington Rail Trail,” Bellamy confirms. “We provided a local match to receive $40,000 in federal funds for a comprehensive master plan to be conducted by Raleigh-based Kimley-Horn, planning and design consultants with experience in large-scale projects. We will meet soon to outline the timeline, particularly as it relates to public engagement, as the master plan must be complete by June 30, 2020.”
The council also partnered with Wave Transit, Wilmington Downtown Inc. and other stakeholders to rebrand the downtown trolley. Its route now serves riders into all creative districts, from the CBD to South Front, Castle Street to Brooklyn Arts District to the north riverfront. While getting from point A to point B to enjoy art is important, the scope of creative output in ILM first must be in place. Since 2011, the council’s Grassroots Arts Programs have awarded $422,000 in funds. They give $50,000 annually to 23 local arts organizations and leveraged it to obtain another $515,188 in grants. As well they offer regional grants for local artist projects in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus. $120,000 has been awarded since 2011, with $15,000 given out a year.
The council also started “Broadway for a Better World” in 2018 with the Wilson Center to award $90,000 in free tickets to underserved areas so youth interested in performance art can experience Broadway touring shows. “The application deadline for this grant cycle is January 17,” Bellamy says.
In fact, continuing to serve the 18 and under population remains top of mind for Bellamy and the council. The arts provide positive characteristics to growing minds, like persistence, collaboration, creative thinking, problem solving, motivation and empathy. The council has partnered with New Hanover County Schools, after having success with their cARTwheels grant in 2017-2018, featuring Black Box Dance Theater. 2020 will bring back an artist residency for students to take advantage of.
“We were awarded another grant to expand the connection to provide a dance integration residency to select Title 1 elementary classes and teachers,” Bellamy says.
2020 also will have the council preparing and planning for a year-long centennial celebration for Dorothy Gillespie beginning in June. The well-known NYC American artist and sculptor has ties to ILM, dating back to the ‘70s. They also are planning “Ears on the Art” in March, which will bring elected officials, the business community and citizens together to inform future plans for Wilmington’s arts council; and they’ll plan the next Wilmington Arts Summit in April, to help bridge the gap between networking and professional development opportunities within the arts community.
Fourth Friday Gallery Walks
Friday, January 24, 6 – 9 p.m.
Participating galleries, downtown Wilmington