RALEIGH — Standing in front of a large poster of himself, a man dressed as Albert Einstein spent Saturday offering a money-back guarantee.
Marc Spiegel, who tours schools with his “Einstein Alive!” science program, was among 90 artists and performers peddling their programming Saturday to schools across Wake County. With so many competitors for the attention – and grant money – of school representatives, Spiegel opted to stand out with his wild white hair and mustache.
Before the start of each school year, The United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County brings in artists like Spiegel for a cultural arts booking fair, now in its 33rd year. The Einstein impersonator from Washington, D.C., says the event is an effective way to spread the word about his offerings. Some teachers and PTA leaders came ready to sign contracts for the upcoming school year; others might take Spiegel’s business card and pass it along to others.
“You may talk to five people, you may get 15 jobs,” said Spiegel, speaking in character as Einstein with a German accent. “You just do not know.”
Kathleen Sweeny is a parent volunteer charged with booking arts assemblies for The Fletcher Academy, a private school in North Raleigh. By midafternoon, she’d already hired a Shakespearean theater company and was considering a didgeridoo performer. The school spends about $3,000 for three shows a year, she said. Most artists have firm pricing, though Sweeny says she’s managed to cut some deals by scheduling extra shows for different grade levels.
“I think it offers the students the opportunity to see different art mediums that might not be offered in the curriculum,” Sweeny said. “It rounds out the curriculum.”
Many parents, including Sweeny, brought their kids along to help select the most engaging performers. In addition to the exhibition booths in the cafeteria at Wakefield High School, the performers each got seven minutes on stage in the school’s auditorium to showcase their acts.
The most business savvy of the artists brought along hands-on activities to entice the kids in attendance. Lindsey Dank, a Florida-based didgeridoo musician who does character education programs, had plenty of instruments to show off. He said one woman who booked him Saturday let her daughter make the call.
“She said, ‘She wants your show, so I want your show,’” Dank said.
Other artists stuck with more traditional networking methods. Sheila Kerrigan, a “mime who talks” from Chapel Hill, said she was greeting everyone who passed by in hopes of starting a conversation. And getting seven minutes on stage was “a great opportunity,” she said.
A panel of experts vets the performers and artists who are invited to the fair and included in a directory provided to the schools; many have appeared in Wake County schools for years.
“This event is about connecting the schools to artists,” said Ragen Carlile, program coordinator for the arts council.
The nonprofit, funded largely by Wake County tax dollars and private donations, offers more than $100,000 in grants each year to schools for about 147,000 hours of arts programming. Some artists even stay for weeklong residencies. “The more exposure to the arts the kids have the better,” said Ginny Zehr, a vice president for the group.
As the crowds began to thin Saturday, Sweeny – the Fletcher Academy mom – was poring over a binder full of background information on each act. She still needed one more program for this school year, possibly a storyteller. She said she didn’t want to leave without spending her budget and setting dates.
“I like to get it all wrapped up,” she said.