Two weeks ago, I attended the Selma Arts Center Awards, show that celebrated and awarded the best in Selma's thriving theater community.
It was a gala event, with well-dressed awards recipients and lots of live song-and-dance performances. The arts are important to the quality of life in a city by exposing its citizens — young and not-so-young — to music and theater as well as visual and literary arts.
During the reception at the SACA's, I chatted with longtime theater director and educator Dennis Adkins, who reminded me that participation in the arts, much like athletics, helps build character, confidence and camaraderie.
"It makes us better citizens," he said. "We become a more productive society with the sharing of ideas."
After the SACA celebration, I headed home exhilarated about the wealth of theater talent that Selma has to draw from. But there also was a bit of melancholy amid my exhilaration. Because while I love the theater arts, I also want my city to support the visual arts.
And where is the support — and funding — for that in Selma?
There is no doubt that the Selma Arts Center is a valuable addition to our downtown. When it was built, it was billed as a multi-purpose room that would allow for theater, concerts and the visual arts.
But that hasn't exactly been the case. I can think of just one art show, an exhibition by Selma's Mark Patterson. A privately-owned space a few doors down from the Arts Center hosted a couple of exhibits but no longer is available for art exhibits.
It would seem that Selma would be an ideal candidate for a small-town arts Mecca. A new downtown theater, an Arts Council filled with passionate supporters and an Arts Foundation that can receive and funnel funds to local arts organizations.
The main attraction of visual arts in Selma are the five downtown murals, which add color and culture to our downtown. They have been financed by local contributions, grant funds and a gift from the Selma Health Care District — all obtained through the determination of Vicki Filgas, who said she has received no city funds for any of those murals. (The Arts Council does oversee the murals.)
Of the 10 members of the Selma Arts Council, nine are involved in theater. The lone visual artist is Jim Stevenson.
Mayor Mike Derr, who also serves as chairman of the Arts Council, says his organization is aware of this lack of support.
"The absence of a visual arts presence is a real concern to us," he said.
Selma Arts Center Coordinator Nicolette Andersen said, "We want to celebrate all the arts." She said the City of Selma has hired some artists to teach classes, and the the Selma Arts Center remains available for art and literary endeavors.
All of that is a good start, but it will not be sustainable unless visual artists are included on the Arts Council. It would behoove the city to seek out artists, authors and crafts persons to balance out the council's membership.
City Councilman Scott Robertson goes one step further. Robertson believes the Selma Arts Council should have commission status, allowing it to be overseen by the City Council, because the Arts Center receives a portion of its funding from Measure K Transient Occupancy Tax and employs a city staffer. Currently, the arts are under the authority of the city's Department of Recreation and Community Services.
Whichever route is taken — inviting visual artists to join the Arts Council or putting the Arts Council under City Council oversight — I believe it is time for Selma's theater-heavy arts support tree to graft a few different branches.