Fluvanna Arts Council has new president

By Page H. Gifford

After nearly ten years at the helm of the Fluvanna County Arts Council, Adele Schaefer stepped down and Sharon Harris was named the new president of the Fluvanna County Arts Council. Schaefer had been instrumental in the metamorphosis of FCAC by strengthening collaborations with local groups.

“I feel so much support from our board. I am looking forward to building on the great work that was done by our previous president,” said Harris. “Adele has done such a great job and has dedicated so many years and many hours to the job of fostering and supporting the arts in Fluvanna.  I am so blessed to be able to step into the role with such a strong and solid foundation from which we can continue to grow.”

Harris’ goal is to not only build on past success but move FCAC and the arts in a different direction

“The arts are such an important part of making community connections. My hope for the FCAC is that we can play a greater role in bringing together members of the community to experience a wonderful diversity of artistic expression, as we work to raise the standard for accessibility and inclusion in the performing arts.”

Over the past few years, Harris says FCAC has been looking for ways to engage with the community by expanding community outreach through social media and newsletters, and surveys and has been successful. Audience size has grown over time. She feels that FCAC’s partnership with Empowered Players has helped them bring new and younger audiences to the Carysbrook Performing Arts Center.

“I hope we can continue to build on this as we bring a variety of musical, performance, and theater groups to the Carysbrook stage.”

Harris’ vision is supported by the board that sees the future of FCAC as not only a steward of Carysbrook Performing Arts Center but as an umbrella group that supports and collaborates with all the arts in the area, including the visual arts. The Center has already begun a relationship with the Fluvanna Art Association.

“It would be wonderful to feature more local musicians and to expand our efforts to highlight the work of local artisans and visual artists. I hope to continue partnering with the Fluvanna Art Association, the Fluvanna County Singers, and the Persimmon Tree Players,” she said. “The arts play such a critical role in the health and well-being of individuals and communities. I would like to see us continue to expand our reach in Fluvanna County and surrounding areas by connecting with local businesses and civic groups and engaging even more with the community.”

Harris sees the arts as more than mere entertainment but as instruments that bring the community together in a deeper and more meaningful way. She envisions arts organizations and performing artists owning their power to connect with communities, to educate, to celebrate, to entertain, and to support.

“In a time when arts organizations have struggled with funding cuts and have had to spend so much time defending and advocating for the importance of community arts programs, we also see so much research documenting the many benefits of the arts. As arts advocates have always known, the arts not only entertain but bring so many other wonderful benefits,” she said. “Participating in the creative arts gives a sense of purpose, gives a social outlet, and helps with physical and emotional health and well-being. The arts help build communities and support local economies. Students involved in theater do better in school. So, while this message is not a new one for arts advocates, the message is being delivered to wider audiences.”

Becoming president during a global pandemic, means the FCAC has challenges in finding ways to experience the arts in our community.  She said that at a time when we would all benefit from the diversion that entertainment can provide, when we are all so isolated and can benefit from the communal experience of watching a play or listening to a concert together, it is not safe to do so.

“Arts groups around the country are exploring how to connect with our communities through music and theater in ways that protect performers and audiences. We are no exception as we consider new and innovative ways of presenting arts programming in our community.”

In the light of current events regarding equal rights and Black Lives Matter, she feels strongly, as do many in the arts, that this is the time when the arts can shine a light on a delicate subject in a respectful and thought-provoking way through theater and music.

Under Schaefer, FCAC took bold steps to be more inclusive and embrace diversity, particularly  with the African-American community. It was Warren Johnson, former president of PTP, who adapted  “To Kill A Mockingbird” to the stage with African-American actors rounding out the cast.

FHS choral teacher and former director of the Fluvanna Community Singers, Horace Scruggs, began his series on African-American music which became a staple of FCAC’s seasonal line-up. Last year, FCAC welcomed Chris Lewis and other gospel singers from area churches to perform at Carysbrook and blew the crowds out of their seats.

FCAC recently joined other area theaters and performing arts centers in supporting that diversity when they made the following statement;

The Fluvanna County Arts Council stands against racism and racist violence. We value equity, justice, and inclusion. We condemn systemic racism and violence against people of color. We commit to listening, to learning, and to using our resources to support change in our community and in our world. We believe that Black Lives Matter.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion in the arts are so important as the arts have the power to unite us and to bring individuals and groups together. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what we are facing as a nation right now. We cannot heal and move forward without acknowledging the inequities and injustice that have been a part of our nation for far too long,” said Harris. “The performing arts can create a space for honest discussion that can lead to understanding and serve as a source for healing wounds and crossing divides.”

Harris recognizes that on a deeper level, through struggle, beauty emerges and that writers, musicians, artists, and others are the visionaries that have for centuries shaped and influenced cultures through the arts.

“This is what the arts can do so well – be the catalyst that brings together individuals and groups to share stories, to listen, to learn, to celebrate the diversity of expression that exists in our communities, and to foster understanding. As arts organizations, we can use our resources to create a space to address issues and promote inclusion, healing, and unity.”

She said that whether it is through music, dance, visual, or performing arts, participating in the creative aspects or as audience members, we see that the arts are able to change people’s perspectives, moods, relationships and overall health.

“Not only can the arts unite people by offering new perspectives and breaking down barriers, but the arts and specifically music can play a significant role in physical healing. There is some exciting research being conducted by the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with the Kennedy Center and renowned soprano Renée Fleming which explores how listening to, performing, or creating music involves brain circuitry that can be harnessed to improve health and well-being.”

“The impact of the arts is so multi-faceted. The arts are so important for individual health and well-being, education, community health, and economic development. In Fluvanna, we are so fortunate to have a wonderful 270-seat community performing arts center. I am so fortunate to be able to work with a very dedicated arts council with a history of commitment to promoting the performing arts and cultural enrichment in our county.”


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