A year in the arts

By Page H. Gifford

Last year was a rough time for the arts everywhere. Theaters and art centers were shuttered and empty, and the bright lights Broadway is known for were not so bright. Actors, singers, dancers, and musicians all had to become ‘virtually” creative.

This year is coming to an end and it looked as if things were turning around and theaters were opening up and welcoming audiences back. Yet it would seem it was too much of a good thing too fast. Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, and Lincoln Center are once again shuttered and empty creating a domino effect down the line to local theaters and art centers.

This year began with uncertainty but with vaccines and boosters, it looked as if we could get off Zoom and meet again in person. Area art centers and theaters opened, including Louisa Arts Center though with  restrictions for exhibits and outdoor events. In Fluvanna, we remained cautious since the county did not immediately open up venues such as the county public library. The Carysbrook Performing Arts Center (CPAC) is still closed to the public. Persimmon Tree Players performed shows in the summer and fall outside at Cunningham Creek Winery. The Fluvanna Art Association had its first judged show in two years at the library when it finally opened. Last year the show was virtual.

The Fluvanna County Arts Council (FCAC), responsible for programs at CPAC, remained virtual throughout the pandemic. This year was the remainder of its 2020-2021 season which featured a celebration of Black History Month with “Resilience, Recovery, and Rebirth: Sustaining Hope in Trying Times” a virtual film presentation and musical performance by Horace Scruggs and Odyssey of Soul. Scruggs’ film was a historical tour of the churches black people attended during and after the Civil War in Fluvanna, including the well-known slave chapel in Bremo Bluff. It also highlighted interviews with black community leaders Mozell Booker and Joe Creasey.

Following that thought-provoking program was the light-hearted Family Feud A Cappella and the virtual audience raved for Claire Donahue and her jazz ensemble. Claire’s velvet voice was reminiscent of jazz singers like Peggy Lee and Julie London.

Empowered Players were busy online this year with notable shows, including “Beauty and the Beast” and “Clue” to name a few. Also featured were improvisational theater and the players’ famous “Shakeplosion” in which the children perform familiar scenes from all of Shakespeare’s plays – a challenge the children mastered but would be intimidating for most adults.

FCAC ended this year with a virtual Christmas concert with various local singers and musicians. It wasn’t a showstopper but a quiet reminder of what Christmas is meant to be. Appreciated was the passion and joy of The Jones Family gospel singers, the upbeat caroling of the Family Feud A Capella, the jazzy versions of Christmas favorites like “Mary Did You Know” by Horace Scruggs and Moving 4Ward and the classic “Greensleeves” by Emma Johnson on the  cello and Celaya Kirchner playing the violin, and also the peaceful serenity of Erin Small and her guitar. At a time when so much of the world is in turmoil, family is important now, and yet with the pandemic still causing so much fear and uncertainty, we reach into our childhood memories, recalling a very different time. These musicians bring Christmas home the way we remember it and help us to reflect on a simpler time.

Standing on the precipice of 2022, we wonder what the year will bring for the arts. Currently, we are looking at another surge, but it’s predicted not to be as bad as 2020, which gives us hope. Audiences everywhere are hungry for live entertainment but not if it means risking their health. This pandemic has been something we have never known and it may require us to adapt to new changes. The arts have learned to be flexible when it comes to reaching audiences.

This year gave FCAC time to examine future goals and to eventually expand the arts for a better cultural experience. One might look at the arts and all its facets as a Renaissance in the making. FCAC’s mantra is “building community through the arts,” and communication through performing and visual arts is the cornerstone of culture. FCAC realizes this and wants to be a harbinger of strong community outreach.

FCAC began in 1992 with a handful of dedicated individuals who saw performing arts, visual arts, film, classes, lectures, and youth programs as the key to a thriving arts center in Fluvanna. When the CPAC officially opened in 1998, Fluvanna was a very different place. It was a faded pen and ink drawing that ignited Sharon Harris’ interest in what CPAC could be and what FCAC could accomplish. The drawing depicted figures lined up, marching up a hill –adults,  children, musicians, puppeteers, actors, singers, and artists. This picture was found among all the memorabilia that was saved by the Fluvanna County Arts Council since its beginning in 1992.

Harris and other FCAC members had a newer, bolder vision for the future: Building the arts up to a new level with more diversity than in the past  beginning with FCAC’s partnership with the Fluvanna Art Association,  and by expanding the exhibits featuring local and other area artists. Empowered Players, a youth program has shaped young minds and spirits through the arts. Horace Scruggs’ recent foray into film traces the history of the black community and gives them a voice. FCAC has obtained grants and is researching ways to add film to its season once the venue opens again to the public.

The dream once had and sadly passed away before seeing it come true, will be restored to its original form when FCAC, FAA, and others can finally come together and the doors of Carysbrook open to the public.

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