By Todd Cohen
Efforts are growing to engage Harnett County residents in the arts.
Cape Fear Friends of the Fine Arts, a program of Campbell University in Buies Creek that supports local arts activities, has grown to 220 members from 90 six years ago, and in July launched its annual membership drive.
And the Harnett County Arts Council, which makes grants for local arts programs, has been reactivated after not operating for several years.
“People in this county have had to go elsewhere for cultural events,” says Claudia Cole, an art teacher at Angier Elementary School and president of the arts council. “We want to do the best we can to bring them here, and help those organizations that are already in existence continue the great work they do.”
Formed in 1975, the all-volunteer group ceased operations for several years during the illness of its previous president, Mary Jo Mann, who died in July.
Supporters revived the council last October, and this year county officials provided it with over $21,000, including funds awarded retroactively for the time the organization was inactive.
The council also is awaiting possible funding from the N.C. Arts Council that could total $19,000, based on a formula that provides funds to local arts councils based on the size of the populations they serve they serve, Cole says.
The group, which also raised $2,000 through entry fees and a membership drive it launched at an art show in June, makes grants with the funds it receives.
Money from the N.C. Arts Council, Cole says, can be used to fund up to half the cost of any arts-related expenses of local organizations.
The Harnett arts council supports programs involving the visual, performing and literary arts, as well as theater and historical or cultural events.
Last spring, for example, it gave $1,100 to the Harnett Regional Theatre for a production of Tom Sawyer.
In September, it will participate in an event sponsored by the Coharie Indian Association in Dunn, and on November 1 will sponsor an information booth at the Cotton Festival in Dunn.
And this summer, the arts council provided funds for scholarships at a week-long choir camp at Campbell University sponsored by Cape Fear Friends of the Fine Arts.
Cape Fear Friends also works with the county school system and libraries, and support arts groups, programs and events like concerts and gallery exhibits, says Ran Whitley, executive secretary of the organization and chair of Campbell’s division of fine arts.
In the coming school year, for example, Cape Fear Friends will sponsor a week-long residency by the Cape Fear Woodwind Quintet, which will provide lessons and clinics at the county’s four high schools, and present a concert for students.
Cape Fear Friends also will sponsor a series of fine arts events at Campbell during the coming school year that will kick off September 12 with “Let’s put on a show,” featuring actor Mickey Rooney.
Cape Fear Friends also offers continuing-education courses for about 40 fine-arts local public-school teachers a year.
“One of our main goals is to enhance the cultural life of the community and broader Cape Fear region,” Whitley says, and to make the arts available to people who otherwise might not be exposed to them.
That is particularly important for children, he says.
“If you touch them early and help them understand how rich life might be because of the arts,” he says, “it can affect the rest of their lives.”