As a native of Wilmington, I never truly saw the beauty of our town until moving back home two years ago. When I told people where I was from, or asked people why they moved here, the same sentiment was expressed: Wilmington possesses a Southern charm that allows folks to slow down, and appreciate their lives and families. Even though much has changed here since I was a little girl—Mayfaire Town Center used to be a horse pasture—Wilmington hasn’t lost the magnetism of its simplicity nor the generosity of its people.
Staying true to its welcoming essence and endless hospitality is a continued tradition of community involvement. A shining example of this is the Orange Street ArtsFest, sponsored by the Thalian Association and The Community Arts Center.
“Now in its 19th year, the festival was founded in 1995 and is now considered the best-selling arts fair in the region,” Susan Habas, executive director of Thalian Association, states.
The association has managed the Hannah Block Community Arts Center since 1994. In essence, the association board of directors founded the festival to help support their theatre group and to promote the community art center. One thing the festival prides itself on is remaining independent and not commercialized; it’s quaint and relaxing for everyone involved.
“This is a very family friendly event,” Habas explains. “And this year we have added a children’s play area in our new and refurbished courtyard.”
Both days will feature live entertainment from local music groups, as well as performances from their children’s theatre group, TACT. Plus, folks will see performance from the cast of their newly opened rendition of “Wonderful Town.”
With free admission, the association asks for donations as part of its main fundraiser. In return, folks stroll the streets of Orange and 2nd to see over 55 artists from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee. Oil and watercolor paintings, pottery, jewelry, wood, glass, and paper creations will be on display on the street and in the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center on 2nd Street. Art will be available for purchase, and demonstrations will be held throughout the day. As well, there will be delicious food for sale from Keith Rhodes’ Catch the Food Truck.
Camaraderie and a familial spirit typifies the festival. A local watercolorist and professor at Brunswick Community College, Ronald Williams has been a participant in the festival since the beginning. “I grew up in downtown Wilmington and have always supported the arts,” he tells.
Painter of Cape Fear and coastal living, Williams captures many local interests, such as lighthouses, iconic historic homes, Johnny Mercer’s Pier, and the now-demolished Ice House. After studying at the Arts Student League and receiving his degree in art from Parson’s School of Design, both in New York City, Williams returned home to pursue painting. As a renowned local artist, he enjoys teaching a variety of mediums, but he most enjoys painting with watercolors. “I like to teach people to begin painting with acrylics and then move on from there,” he says.
He strives to foster the wealth of talent found locally. “What separates this festival from others is the high quality of artists,” Williams describes. “Everything is handmade and all of the arts are major components.”
Aside from professional artists and actors, local high-school students’ work will be on exhibition inside of the Hannah Block USO. The Wilmington Arts Association is sponsoring and judging the New Hanover County High School Art Competition. The opportunity allows youth to be exposed to a continuous flow of people viewing their art. Art teachers in all public and private high schools and academies in New Hanover County approved the final selections; each school could submit up to 15 pieces.
“I believe it is not only important but crucial for children to engage in the arts,” Erika Lawrence, the Wilmington Art Association community outreach coordinator, states. “It helps them develop their budding creativity which is not just painting and drawing, but in any field where new ideas are needed. We need to foster and develop a sense of creativity in children starting at a very early age.”
Orange Street ArtsFest
Orange Street, between Front and 2nd streets
Saturday, May 24th, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sunday, May 25th 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Free • Donations appreciated