For 21 years now Thalian Association has been hosting the Orange St. ArtsFest at Orange and 2nd streets, inside and outside of the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center, each Memorial Day weekend. The juried festival awards cash prizes of $550 to visual artists and acts as a major fundraiser for the association, which runs the USO for the City of Wilmington. Thalian Association utilizes the arts center to teach children’s theatre classes and house their youth productions, as well as hold rehearsals for their main stage and Red Barn Studio seasons. Though the festival is free, donations are appreciated to help keep Thalian Association actively engaging the arts within the community, as it has since its inception in 1788.
Among the lineup of artists attending the festival for 2016 is Wilmington’s own Kelly Sweitzer of The Pepper Mill Shop. Her punny artwork made its debut over a year ago and has taken off beyond mere paintings. Today, Sweitzer etches her food-inspired characters onto tees, totes, onesies, magnets, and pins, as she travels in and out of state to markets, festivals, and pop-ups. Retail shops, galleries and restaurants hang her work, as seen at Edge of Urge (Raleigh), Lantana’s Gallery (Southport), and locally at Sweet n Savory (Wrightsville Beach), wherein Sweitzer designed pieces to reflect their menu.
“I currently have over 40 designs,” she says. “Spring is hustle season when you’re in this market. There’s a wonderful seasonal festival or a monthly pop-up around every corner.”
With the help of her husband (and local musician) Charlie Smith, they are able to maximize their reach. Sweitzer designs the product and Charlie, “a great salesman,” according to the artist, maps their course. Each month they do around eight to 12 events, whether traveling to Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill, or doing local farmers’ markets and the Historic Downtown Wilmington Market, or smaller gatherings, like “There’s Something To Do,” hosted by local Michael Ussery at various spots around Wilmington.
“We bought an outfitted Econoline E250 last year, which we named ‘Oreo Speedwagon,’” Sweitzer says. “She’s taken us all over NC and to Virginia a couple times for shows. I certainly plan on taking her on the road a lot this fall for shows.”
Sweitzer’s zany works are pun-based. She debuted six newbies most recently, inspired by her love of ‘90s hip-hop. “My favorites [are] ‘Olive It When You Call Me Big Poppa’ and ‘It’s a Chard Knock Life,’” she tells. “The best response is anyone who comes in and stays for all the laughs. People ask if it gets old when folks read everything out loud while laughing, and the answer is always, ‘No!’ It’s why I’m doing this—the laughs are the real payoff.”
This weekend Sweitzer will sell nothing over $40 at Orange St. ArtsFest. More so, she’ll be sharing in the camaraderie of other local artists, such as friend Maggie Naffziger, who launched her own upcycling company, Create Good, in 2013. Naffziger will have a booth set up as part of her first Orange St. ArtsFest experience.
“I started Create Good as a way to use my skills to provide an income for myself while in-between jobs,” says Naffziger, who spent two years in AmeriCorps NCCC, working with nonprofits nationwide. She wanted her company to reflect her give-back spirit as well, so, she donates 10 percent of all sales to education in the U.S. via DonorsChoose.org. “To date, Create Good has positively influenced over 1,000 kids and their education,” Naffziger states.
Having been reared by a mother who ran a successful at-home seamstress business, Naffziger’s current work seems serendipitous. “Once I found a product I loved creating, I felt inspired to follow in her footsteps,” she tells. Naffziger makes clothing and home goods out of other products—reusing and upcycling them into a new treasure.
“When picking out fabrics or deciding on new projects, it is simple: If I wouldn’t wear it or put it up in my house, I’m not going to make it,” she says. “I take pride in knowing I am not buying new fabrics to make more products in the world. Instead, I’m taking something pre-loved and finding a way to make a new product worth loving all over again!”
This weekend she will sell her popular “boyfriend skirt,” along with wine-bottle gift bags, dog collars, toys, and vintage camera bookends. She’ll also sell decorated vintage suitcases.
“Currently, I sell exclusively at markets in NC,” Naffziger notes. “The freedom of finding a different city, market, or group of vendors to work with is refreshing. Variety has kept me on my toes and happy about what I’m doing.”
Naffziger will be doing three to five markets a week this summer, including the Historic Downtown Wilmington Market on Sundays at Front and Market streets, as well as at the Kure Beach Farmers’ Market and Thursday night farmers’ market at Poplar Grove.
Visual arts and crafts aren’t the only creative backbone of the Orange Street ArtsFest. There will be live entertainment slated throughout the two-day event. Music and dance performances are scheduled on the Orange Street stage beside the USO, featuring artists who perform or teach in the Community Arts Center. Anevay Dance Company, El Jaye Johnson, Flor-Y-Canto, Revolver Music, and Rhythm and Grits are slated to perform. As well Thalian Association Community Theatre will present selections from their 2016-2017 Main Stage and youth theatre productions. Food trucks will be on hand, including Catch, Poor Piggy’s, NC Sweet Tea, and Snowy of the Carolinas. Plus, the High School Student’s Art Contest Exhibition, presented by the Wilmington Art Association, will be on display in the arts center, alongside wartime exhibits.
Thalian has partnered with local nonprofit DREAMS of Wilmington to showcase student artwork, as well as with The Children’s Museum of Wilmington, who will host an interactive display in the arts center. There will be stations featuring science experiments, construction with foam building blocks, and arts and crafts for families to enjoy.