Some may have seen her onstage as Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Others may have heard her voice reporting the news for Cumulus Media. Or maybe they’ve read one of her three books: “My Restless Journey,” the memoirs of iconic community leader Bertha Boykin Todd; “A Community Remembers 1898”; or “Meet the Help,” true stories of domestic workers co-written by Bertha Todd. Rhonda Bellamy is a woman of fascinating artistic reach. She served on numerous arts boards, including Cameron Art Museum, the Black Arts Alliance and the NC Black Film Festival (the latter two which she founded). Plus, she was a founding instructor at DREAMS Center for Arts Education. Thus in July 2012, after acting as interim director for the newly minted Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, it only made sense that Bellamy land the job full-time.
“After the Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear closed its doors in 2002, I was appointed co-chair of the City of Wilmington’s Task Force on Arts and Cultural Affairs,” she says. “The task force convened a number of public meetings to gauge the needs of Wilmington’s arts community. We presented the findings to City Council in 2003 and recommended that the city establish an Office of Cultural Affairs if it was not going to fund an outside agency. Neither came to be, and so a group of local arts leaders invited the North Carolina Arts Council to facilitate the establishment of an arts council in Wilmington.”
Since launching, the council has taken over downtown Wilmington’s popular Fourth Friday Gallery Nights. Participating galleries, art studios and other businesses stay open after hours, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., to showcase new exhibits by veteran and emerging artists. Eighteen participants are lined up for the first art walk of 2015, slated for January 23.
“It is tremendous exposure for galleries and artists who have come to rely on the steady flow of art lovers, many of whom might not otherwise frequent downtown Wilmington,” Bellamy says. “As small business owners, they realize the value in jointly promoting one of our city’s greatest assets—a concentration of fine art galleries and spaces within close proximity of each other.”
Four new gallery spaces were added in 2014, all from the Castle Street Arts and Antique District (Urban Revival, Dan Beck Studio, Every Good Thing Artisan Gallery, and the Muddy Muse). For 2015, three galleries have changed locations, including Bottega Art Bar (122 Princess St.), Every Good Thing Artisan Gallery (315 Castle St.), and River to Sea Gallery (224 S. Water St.).
The participating galleries pay an annual fee to be a part of the event, with all monies put back into promotional materials for Fourth Friday. “Though the arts council receives no monetary benefit from the marketing initiative, we welcome the opportunity to serve the visual arts community, which represents a large part of our constituency,” Bellamy explains.
2015 will find new exterior signs designating the participants, plus the council is considering the inclusion of a free trolley service between locations. Bellamy opened ACES Gallery in the arts council 221 N. Front Street office to “provide economic and professional development opportunities for New Hanover County-based artists, groups and independent curators.” ACES’ store-front exhibitions coincide with Fourth Friday. January will feature work from Owen Wexler.
Yet, Fourth Friday is only one of many programs Bellamy oversees as head of the council. She also has re-introduced a Pedestrian Art public sculpture program. The idea is to pepper the Cape Fear cityscape with temporary and permanent installations to introduce diversity of contemporary public art and artists to locals and tourists. Four new installations are on the docket for 2015, including works by sculptor Adam Walls installed at: 6th and Castle streets, the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, 200 block of Willard Street, and the 900 block of Princess Street. In March the council is planning to erect 24 pieces, in association with Tri-State Sculptors.
As well, the council oversees the Grassroots Arts Program grant in New Hanover County, which supports organizations and artists that provide fresh, innovative arts experiences. “The N.C. Arts Council awards grant money each year in all 100 counties of North Carolina,” Bellamy explains. “While arts councils are allowed to keep 20 to 50 percent for operations, we have subgranted the entire amount. New Hanover County’s Grassroots appropriation this fiscal year is $44,763.” It’s up from $22,00 during the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Bellamy oversees the Regional Artist Project grant, too, which includes New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, and Columbus counties. Monies are awarded annually to accomplished artists “by funding a project pivotal to a career in their respective art forms.” In 2013-14 and 2014-15, they allotted $15,000. The deadline for the Grassroots Arts Project grant is generally in June, while the Regional Artist Project deadline is generally in September.
“Having spent my entire professional career in Wilmington as a journalist and now as an arts administrator, I know this community well,” Bellamy says. “I have a natural knack for finding connections and fostering collaborations, and that’s what I love best about my job.”
The council’s website hosts a centralized calendar to help artists and organizations promote their events and utilize marketing tools. They also have an arts directory that allows artists and organizations to create a page and post directly to the calendar. “Additionally, we have developed a mobile app for use by arts facilities,” Bellamy notes.
As far as new ideas brewing, Bellamy says 2015 will be spent scouting the community to find out exactly what they’d like to see expand within the arts. She and the City of Wilmington will hold an “Ears on the Arts” listening tour—essentially, community meetings that will give the public a platform to voice their own opinions on how the council can best serve the community.
“The data will also be used by [our] board of directors and staff in crafting the organization’s strategic plan and goals for the next three to five years,” Bellamy says.
Through a civic partnership with the City of Wilmington, the last report, Pathways to Prosperity by Garner Economics, was generated between 2008 and 2012. It showed in New Hanover County the arts and entertainment sector as the second leading jobs generator. “The report also cited the sector as one of the community’s assets from a business-recruiting standpoint,” Bellamy says. “It’s a clean, indigenous multimillion dollar industry, comprising talented entrepreneurs, and nonprofit and for-profit small businesses that provide wonderful artistic experiences for our residents and visitors to our city, energizes our neighborhoods, and grows the tax base. It makes good business sense to support the arts council. It’s the single most effective way to support the broad spectrum of artists and arts organizations in our community.”
Fourth Friday Gallery Walk
January 23, 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
Feat. 18 participating downtown galleries, studios and small businesses
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