BEST YEAR YET: Arts organizations say 2015 among the most successful ever

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, December 29, 2015

This past year was among one of the best on record in terms of participation and the quality of events, say local organizations.

This past year was among one of the best on record in terms of participation and the quality of events, say local organizations.

Not many rural counties with a population of around 30,000 have the distinction of being centers for the arts. However, Pike County has made a name for itself in both the cultural arts and the folk arts.

Troy Arts Council offers an annual calendar of public performances featuring nationally and internationally acclaimed artists and the Johnson Center for the Arts features highly acclaimed exhibitions at its showplace gallery. The Brundidge Historical Society’s We Piddle Around Theater is the home for a variety of Alabama Top Ten folklife events each Year.

The year 2015 was better than a good year for all three arts organizations.

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Dr. John Jinright, Troy Arts Council presenter chair, said the TAC’s 2015 entertainment calendar year got off to a great start and finished with flair.

“Our first concert was an Eagles Tribute by Seven Bridges Road and the response to that concert was very good,” Jinright said. “We got a lot of positive feedback from it.”

The TAC partnered with Troy University to bring the Ma Chis Lower Creek Indian Tribe Pow Wow to the university campus in an effort to make the pow wow a major tourist attraction.

“Throughout the day, we had several thousand students from area schools to attend and the day was a big success as students were introduced to the Ma Chis culture,” Jinright said. “Martha Redbone, who is an American blues and soul singer of part Cherokee, Choctaw, European and African-American decent, was featured in concert and she was outstanding.”

Jinright said another highlight of the TAC performance calendar was the Alash Throat Singers from the Republic of Tuva, which is in the southern part of Siberia.

“The Alash concert was incredible ” Jinright said. “Alash also did six concerts at different schools. The teachers said their performances were wonderful enrichment opportunities for the students in that they got to meet artists from Tuva and to hear amazing throat music.”

The TAC 2015 event calendar closed with the Shelia Jackson and Friends Holiday Concert in December.

“The concert sold out and was just an amazing show,” Jinright said. “The Troy Arts Council appreciates all of the hard work that Shelia and her friends do so that we can offer their special holiday concert to the community.”

Jinright said the TAC is putting together its performance calendar for 2016 and it promises to be equally exciting and entertaining.”

The year 2015 was, perhaps, the must successful year in the Johnson Center for the Arts’ 10-year history, said Vicki Pritchett, Johnson Center executive director.

“From beginning to end, 2015 was a great year for the Johnson Center,” Pritchett said. “What made it so successful was the variety of exhibitions. Our exhibitions are always of the highest quality and this year there was also a great variety.

“We started the year with Ted Metz’ industrial sculptures; psychedelic paintings by his wife, Robin; and Randy Gachet’s found objects art.”

In the spring, the JCA featured student artwork and the TroyFest Best of Show winner, Kelly Olszyk, and Craig Wedderspoon’s sculptures that included kid-friendly, climb about steel oval installations.

“In the summer, the Johnson Center featured a unique collaboration of work by Jerry Johnson, Diane Orlofsky and Pam Allen,” Pritchett said. “The exhibition was a combination of artwork and the written word and it was amazing.”

The fall brought together 40 artists for the Biennial Exhibition.

“Many of the artists are recipients of Alabama State Arts Council Fellowships,” Pritchett said. “The installations were unique and artists came and installed their pieces. They were looking forward to the show and is was an incredible exhibition of Alabama artists.”

In the fall, the JCA took a step outside the box with its first ever Wildlife Exhibition and student Wild Art show. Buck Taylor’s wildlife photography was also featured.

“The Johnson Center is more that just as gallery for outstanding art exhibitions,” Pritchett said. “We are a dedicated cultural arts center. And as a part of our transition, the Troy Music Study Club donated a baby grand piano for the JCA and the Campbell family donated a piano for The Studio. We had a great 2015 and are looking forward to continued success in 2016.”

The Brundidge Historical Society was organized in 1991 but didn’t began to focus on the folk arts until 2002 when it produced an original folklife play title “Come Home, It’s Suppertime” at the We Piddle Around Theater.

Lawrence Bowden, BHS president, said from 2002, “Come Home” ran the first two weeks in April and the first two weeks in November without fail until April 2015.

“For different reasons, mostly health, we had many cast members out and we decided it would be better to not do the play in the spring,” Bowden said. “But we were back in the fall and had a great season with our veterans and some new faces. It was great to be back and we’re looking forward to the spring.”

Bowden said the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in January was one of the best.

“Every year, we think we can’t get any better and every year we do. This year’s storytelling with Donald Davis, Barbara McBride-Smith, Josh Goforth and Tim Lowry was outstanding.”

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Bowden said the June Buggin’ storytelling event featured Kate Campbell, a Nashville-based folk singer from Sledge, Mississippi.

“Kate Campbell has a unique and outstanding voice,” he said. “She writes her own music and her music is her stories.”

Andy Offutt Irwin was back at the Chili County Christmas event and, as always, had the audience giggling, chuckling and belly laughing at his wacky ways and funny stories about life with his Aunt Marguerite.”

The BHS also sponsored the 24th annual Peanut Butter Festival, which highlighted folkways and skills and the folk music of the award-winning Herb Trotman Band.

“The year 2015 was a very successful one for us because of the support of our events,” Bowden said. “We appreciate everyone who attends our events and thank them for their support.”