Troy expands cultural arts in 2008

Published 8:35 pm Saturday, December 27, 2008

Not many small rural counties can boast of being cultural arts centers but Pike County has gained that reputation.

With the opening of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts in September and the presentation of the Governor’s Tourism Award to the Brundidge Historical Society for its folklife play, “Come Home, It’s Suppertime,” in August, the county has firmly engrained itself as a cultural arts center.

The foundation for such recognition had been laid by the Troy Music Study Club and the Troy Arts Council, organizations that have promoted the arts and presented quality fine arts entertainment for many years, and by Troy University, which has one of the most outstanding fine arts programs in the country.

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Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts

The grand opening of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts on Sept. 14, 2008, marked the beginning of a new era in the cultural arts for Pike County. Several hundred people attended the historic ceremony.

The arts center was named in memory of Holman Johnson, the Troy town photographer for 40 years, and his wife, Ethel, a longtime supporter of the arts.

In expressing his appreciation to those who helped make the dream of a cultural arts center a reality, Mack Gibson, chairman of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center’s board of directors, cited several events that were initially significant in making the Johnson Center for the Arts a reality.

The city of Troy provided $200,000 in seed money for the arts center. USDA Rural Development provided a low-interest, 40-year loan of $1.689 million for the renovation project. And, Manley and Mary Johnson’s gift of $500,000 and the hiring of Richard Metzger as executive director of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center provided the funds and leadership for the project to move ahead at full-speed.

Al Head, president of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, said the opening of the Johnson Center for the Arts was a significant event, not only for Troy, but for the state of Alabama and adds a gem to the cultural landscape of Alabama.

Brundidge Historical Society’s “Come Home, It’s Suppertime”

On Aug. 12, the Brundidge Historical Society received the 2008 Governor’s Tourism Award for its original folklife play, “Come Home, It’s Suppertime.” BHS President Lawrence Bowden accepted the award on behalf of the cast, musicians and crew.

The folklife play celebrated its 100th performance in April and had played to more than 14,000 people from Alabama, eight other states and several foreign countries.

“We are humbled and honored to receive such a prestigious award,” Bowden said. “We are so appreciative of the recognition. We are proud of our rural heritage and we are proud of Alabama. This play is a celebration of who we are as Alabamians.”

Bowden said he could not attribute the play’s success to any one thing.

“It’s a combination of all that we do,” he said. “It’s simply local people telling true stories about people and events that have shaped our lives. It’s the music, the atmosphere of the theater, which was originally a Works Progress Administration project and the opportunity to come home at suppertime.”

Mayor Jimmy Ramage expressed his excitement about the recognition.

“For our community to recognized with an Alabama tourism award is a tribute to what can be done in a small town,” he said.

Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival

The Brundidge Historical Society also presented the second annual Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival the last weekend in January. The storytelling festival has quickly brought about a resurging interest in the oral tradition of entertainment.

The Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival, held at the We Piddle Around Theater in Brundidge and the Trojan Center Theater at Troy University, featured nationally acclaimed storytellers, Donald Davis, Kathryn Tucker Windham, Sheila Kay Adams and Andy Offutt Irwin.

Lawrence Bowden, BHS president, said other festivals might have a lineup as good as the 2008 Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival but none would have a better lineup.

“The tellers that we have at the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival are among the ones that people go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. to hear,” he said. “It’s almost unbelievable that people have the opportunity to hear these highly acclaimed and much sought after storytellers right here in Pike County.”

The storytelling festival was supported by Troy University, the Troy Arts Council, the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts and attracted nearly 1,000 listeners.

Andy Warhol Exhibition

On Aug. 16, a truck arrived in Troy carrying crates containing 35 large screen prints of the work of Pop artist Andy Warhol, which would be the featured exhibition at the grand opening of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts on Sept. 14.

Richard Metzger, executive director of the Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center, described the arrival of the Andy Warhol exhibition as “Christmas in August.”

“To see these Andy Warhol silk screens in person is such a joy,” Metzger said. “His work is phenomenal. An art book can’t do his work justice. I’m overwhelmed.”

Marsha Gaylard, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Corp., said the exhibition “puts us right up there with the big boys in the Alabama art world.”

The Prints of Andy Warhol exhibit came down on Nov. 15.

“The Warhol exhibit was a tremendous success,” Metzger said. “We had about 2,000 students to visit the exhibit and about 1,500 people from off the streets. They came from the local areas and from as far as Birmingham, Mobile and Atlanta.

Metzger said the Warhol exhibit was a catalyst for the many outstanding exhibits planned for the Johnson Center for the Arts.

Troy Arts Council

The Troy Arts Council offered an outstanding calendar of events for 2008 that attracted people from Pike and surrounding counties to the Claudia Crosby Theater.

The calendar included the Ronin Taiko Drum Concert, Glenn Miller Orchestra, 1st Baptist of Ivy Gap and Pirates of Penzance.

The Troy Arts Council held its annual Patrons’ Drive for 2008-09 on Aug. 19 and the response was even greater than had been expected.

Kristi Drinkwater, TAC president, said the excitement surrounding the arts calendar for 2009 was evident in the large turnout and the enthusiasm among the patrons.

“We are hearing that this season’s calendar is the best ever,” Drinkwater said.