By TOMI WILEY
For many people who are new to the area or only come here for the shopping or dining, Mt. Juliet may seem more like a destination than a thriving music and arts community. But since January 2005, the West Wilson Community Arts Alliance has been providing stellar entertainment ranging from visual art, choral and jazz to sold out community theatre and, soon, a haven for writers and lovers of the written word.
In late 2004, a small group of local Mt. Juliet and West Wilson County citizens realized they needed a stronger musical presence in the community, according to Arts Alliance board member and former chairman Gary Rabideau. They came up with the concept of developing the Arts Alliance “as a vehicle to start up many types of arts organizations.”
In January of 2005 organizers had a meeting, which was publicized in the local news, for anyone interested in starting any type of arts organization. Rabideau said over 60 people showed up. “It was much more successful than we anticipated,” Rabideau admitted with a smile. “There was an overwhelming demand for a community chorus, a community theatre, and a group for fine arts.”
And so the Arts Alliance www.westwilsonarts.net was born. There were enough people and energy in this nucleus that it all started that night, and within one month each group was holding their own meetings and organizing events.
Rabideau has been especially involved in Choral Dynamics, the Arts Alliance’s community singing group, which he said “started right away with a spring show.” Choral Dynamics puts on Christmas and spring shows and is involved in lots of community events, prayer breakfasts, and open houses. They have performed for the City of Mt. Juliet’s Fourth of July celebrations and for lots of art open houses hosted quarterly at F & M Bank in Mt Juliet. They were also a staple of the Arts Alliance Gala, held last March at St. Stephen’s Catholic Community.
The second branch of the “original three” in the Arts Alliance is Encore Theatre Company, which “started up with a roar” that first night. “They met weekly and started having performances in six months,” Rabideau marveled. “They came right off the blocks, and we are extremely proud of them, too.”
Mary Gingold has served as president of Encore Theatre since 2007 and will begin another term in 2010.
“There were about 10 people involved in the start-up and organization of the group. Today we have a board of 10 people, and a membership of about 40 people,” Gingold said. “However, involvement in Encore is not limited to members; anyone in the community can be involved in our productions and the ongoing ‘business’ of Encore. Members enjoy perks such as discounts to shows, workshops, and special events; membership is a requirement to hold a seat on the board.”
Encore Theatre has six to eight performances per year and has packed enough houses at their current venue, located at 14905-A Lebanon Road (behind Tractor Supply) in Old Hickory, to move to a new building at Hwy. 109 and Lebanon Road. The 3,000 square-foot building is being rented to the troop by George Thomas Realty “at a good rate,” Rabideau said.
“We are very excited,” Rabideau said of the theatre group’s new digs. “There are three bathrooms, it will seat at least 100 people, and we need all that because the play audiences have really grown, and we’re selling out.”
Gingold added that in 2010 Encore will showcase three original works by Encore members, which is unprecedented in middle-Tennessee. “We will also hold a show or one-acts in the summer, specifically targeted for youth of all ages, and actually produced and directed by some of our teens. This is a veryambitious schedule but it gives us flexibility to not just reach out to the community at large, but we feel like the etcetera stage allows us some flexibility to offer productions that are not necessarily mainstream shows, or may have an appeal to a smaller audience. In February we will again hold our annual Chili Cook-Off, and we have already started planning our annual fundraiser – The Phantom Ball, scheduled for October.”
Rabideau added that Encore achieved its 501(c)(3) non-profit status within eight months of organization and “moved on from there.” “There have been some tough times but they’ve made it work,” he said, “and right now they’re in the black. We are so incredibly proud and impressed with that.”
And what is an Arts Alliance without the physical aspect of visual art: the Fine Arts Guild. Anita Spicer is the president of the Fine Arts Guild and said the group works “to provide an opportunity for local visual artists to interact, improve their skills, and exhibit their work. The common bond of the Guild is enthusiasm for creative expression, plus a desire to nurture art appreciation. We are open to all individuals regardless of artistic ability, from the long established professional artist to the most inexperienced beginner.”
“The Fine Arts Guild recognizes that cultural arts enhance the lives of everyone in our community by offering visual and mental stimulation, opening our imaginations, and encouraging togetherness through conversation,” said Spicer. “Visual art creates strong social networks, brings together diverse groups of people, fosters a sense of community, and builds relationships by bringing together people who may not otherwise share a mutual interest. Art comes in so many forms, it is something in which we can all take part and share. Several artists have sold pieces from these exhibits and some have even been commissioned for (personal art pieces).”
The Fine Arts Guild currently has 25 members and exhibit at a permanent gallery space at Executive Title (located at 4470 Old Lebanon Dirt Road) where artwork is on display Monday-Friday. They also host “Artist of the Month” exhibits at WB&T (Hwy 70), F&M Bank and First Tennessee (Providence) in which a single artist displays each month. The Fine Arts Guild is made up of several photographers, painters in all mediums, a blacksmith who does decorative ironwork, jewelry artists, and a weaver/fiber artist.
“In addition to our permanent gallery space and our Artist of the Month exhibits, F&M Bank currently hosts a quarterly Fine Art Reception which showcases the work of the Artists for that quarter,” Spicer added. “These receptions provide an opportunity for open dialogue between the members of the Fine Arts guild and the public who attends. Patrons may get an up-close-and-personal look at artwork and interact with local artists as well.”
The Arts Alliance Jazz Ensemble gathered in 2006, with 18 players the first night and Glenn Martin, a music instructor at Cumberland University, at the helm.
“They were very good from the first chord they played,” Rabideau said. “They have a big band sound, and they are just a fantastic group. The most difficult night to book them is Saturday, since almost all of them are part of another professional or semi-professional group booked somewhere else.”
The newest addition to the Arts Alliance is Cedar Creek Community Band, led by director Sherri Grossman, which started up in the fall of 2008. The CCCB consists of woodwind, brass, and percussion and consists of over 50 people and more than 100 instruments.
“It is a phenomenal group, just amazing,” Rabideau said. “That group came out of the blue, and was wonderful. The amount of pent-up demand of talent in our community is astounding: we just needed to open up the door, and the talent stepped through.”
Another area of the arts is gearing up within the Alliance: the Writers Guild, spearheaded by yours truly. If you are a writer and interested in joining a group for writers, which will meet to discuss and critique work and later hold readings and possibly open mike nights, email your contact information to TnWriterEditor@gmail.com.
“We know budgets are tight right now, but the arts have always been such an integral part of any thriving community and such a release for people during the toughest of times,” Rabideau said. “We want to have a continued presence and emphasis on art, music, and theatre in the community and especially in schools. The Arts Alliance is proud to be a venue for that.”