A study done by the Economic Impact of Arts in South Carolina showed in Charleston how the world-renowned Spoleto Festival USA—a 17-day event featuring 700 cultural and arts happenings—and its Piccolo Spoleto—a regional version of the parent festival—set a cultural standard across the state. 153,500 visitors attended the two festivals in 2000 and brought in $43.1 million dollars to the Lowcountry. Money spent on lodging, food and beverages, souvenirs and tickets flooded the region. More so, $29.2 million were spent toward labor, which helped fill the equivalent of over 1,600 full-time jobs.
In Wilmington, NC, as reported on by our Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County last month, according to Arts and Economic Prosperity’s five national impact studies, more than $55 million came into our own county in 2015. Thus, more than 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs were supported.
With the addition of UNCW’s Lumina Festival of Arts (LFA) set to debut this weekend and last over 17 days, we can assume a notch will be added to the belt that holds up arts as a viable financial commodity in Wilmington. Founded by Kristen Brogdon, director of UNCW’s Office of Arts and acting interim assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, LFA will bring together local nonprofits and organizations to perform a variety of shows across multiple media, from theatre to dance to visual arts to music.
“Our goal and mission is to invite our community from the Cape Fear and beyond to engage in creative expression with us, all over campus, throughout the second half of July,” Brogdon tells. “We have 22 events happening, using the bookends of our UNCW Summer Jazz Workshop final concert and Opera Wilmington’s ‘Carmen’ to start and end the festival.”
The festival is approachable to all budgets, too. “We specifically made tickets very affordable (and four events are free!) so people can come to more than one performance,” Brogdon admits. Cucalorus Film Festival is hosting a few free film screenings at UNCW amphitheatre (July 19 and 26, 8:30 p.m.). There are multiple dance series, such as an international ballet showcase on July 29, 3 p.m. ($10), as well as Alban Elved Dance Company doing a family-friendly showcase during Seahawk FAM, called “The Light of Water,” on July 27 at 10 a.m. ($5).
“One of the pieces on the Dance Cooperative showcase is Nancy Carson and Bradford Brown’s ‘The Anniversary Dinner,’” Brogdon says, “which was one of the highlight’s of last year’s Dance-a-lorus [the kick-off to Cucalorus every November].”
Brogdon also reached out to collaborate with the Black Arts Alliance and Wilmington Latin Dance. The latter will have a free salsa dance party at UNCW’s amphitheatre on July 22, 8:30 p.m. Plus, professors at UNCW, such as Christopher Marino, who teaches theatre, is using the festival to launch a new project.
“We have a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ sharing the stage and set with the opera ‘Carmen’ on alternate nights,” according to Brogdon.
Alchemical Theatre Company’s “Much Ado” on July 22 will be the first show of Marino’s professional company. He is pulling from acting friends he knows nationally, such Fred Grandy, most well-known for his role as Gopher on “The Love Boat.” (Stay tuned for encore’s coverage of the show in next week’s edition.)
“Lumina Festival benefits UNCW by showcasing many of our talented arts faculty and also by inviting the community to campus to show off all of our arts facilities,” Brogdon notes. Venues across campus to be used include Kenan Auditorium, Beckwith Recital Hall, the mainstage theatre in the Cultural Arts Building, as well as its art gallery.
“We hope people from the Cape Fear region will enjoy seeing many of our local and regional artists onstage and will attend multiple events,” she notes. “The long-term goal is for the Lumina Festival to become an arts destination for the people of North Carolina and the Coastal South. I think two and a half weeks is a good time frame, and I’ll be watching keenly throughout this first year to see which events and artists create the most inspiration and excitement for our campus and community. Then we’ll build future festivals out of that inspiration.”
Much like Spoleto works with local and regional artists and groups, Lumina Festival will have strong ties to the folks working closest in our region. “Spoleto was definitely an inspiration for Lumina Festival,” Brogdon notes. “I did my first arts internships at Spoleto over 20 years ago.”
Yet, artists and audiences will help guide its growth, Brogdon says, which hopefully will see it expand into national and international works. In its first year, it’s already hosting one famed saxophonist that music lovers will appreciate from the jam scene.
“The festival kicks off with a jazz concert [from UNCW faculty in the music department] that features Jeff Coffin, the saxophonist for the Dave Matthews Band,” Brogdon tells. “He’s playing with a group of young artists and he’s a great teacher, as well as an amazing entertainer.”
The written word and its impact of cadence also will be highlighted with a poetry jam at Kenan Auditorium, hosted by Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman of COAST 97.3. Music will be spun by DJ Mike Lang, with the $10 proceeds ($5 for students with ID) benefitting the Black Arts Alliance’s NC Black Film Festival and Lumina Arts Festival.
“We’ve been working since I got here to make the arts one of the cornerstones of UNCW’s efforts to engage with our community,” the interim vice chancellor notes. “I’m honored to have this interim role. I think it’s a signal to Wilmington and the arts community that we’re serious about including the community in our arts programs, both in the audience and onstage, and that artists have a powerful role to play in building communities.”
The creative process is one Brogdon hails as an asset to community-building. Essentially, artists have the ability to foresee solutions to problems on a grand scale, and often remain very resourceful in gathering materials and people to overcome obstacles.
“They can make a vision a reality,” she notes. “We need to put some artists in charge and help them build their careers and our community. We need to work to find more ways that artists can make a living professionally in this region.”
A festival of this caliber is a starting point. It will add to the economic growth and development that will give hope and opportunity to musicians, painters, thespians, dancers, and the lot of folks, from behind-the-scenes tech jobs to front-of-the-house ticket sales.
“Given what we’ve learned from the recent arts and economic prosperity survey, we could expect the economic impact to be over $70,000, in addition to audience ticket prices,” Brogdon projects. “Our goal is 3,200 participants in festival events this first year, and the study showed that audience members spend an average of $22.66 per person over and above spending on tickets.”
Tickets can be purchased to the various events at uncw.edu/arts/tickets.html.