You can’t buy one of Clyde Jones’ chainsaw critters. You can’t even ask for one. He has to decide to give it to you.
The disarmingly simple artworks, creatures of rough-hewn whimsy, are scattered throughout yards in Bynum. And many days Jones himself can be found puttering around the small Chatham County town in his own distinctive way.
“Is there another artist that drives up the road on a purple sparkly lawnmower?” Chatham Arts Council Executive Director Cheryl Chamblee asked with a laugh.
It’s his generous spirit and his focus on kids – families are most often the recipients of his critters – that make him an appropriate namesake and focus for Chatham Arts Council’s annual children’s folk art festival and fundraiser, ClydeFEST. He represents something magical about Chatham, Chamblee said, though she feels the county has many festival-worthy artists. Chatham Arts Council’s mission is directly related to the promotion and proliferation of these creators.
This organization does two things: It invests in artists and it educates children through the arts. Any money it raises, either from donations or from ClydeFEST revenue, goes directly back into these parallel programs. Other forms of support are less tangible, but still meaningful.
“The best way to help the arts in the county stay alive is by being creative and by supporting creativity,” Chamblee said.
Chatham Arts Council maintains a directory of local writers, visual artists, musicians and arts supporters and publishes regular in-depth Meet This Artist profiles about local creators on its website. Last fiscal year, the organization moved into the schools, too. Its Artists in Schools initiative puts local professional artists in front of young students, bolstering existing arts education in the county’s schools. Chamblee is quite excited.
“Seeing that come to fruition was the most inspired and fulfilling thing that I have been a part of in 20 years working in nonprofits,” she said. “That was a really beautiful thing to see.”
Many surrounding counties already have this program in place, Chamblee said, and it was definitely Chatham’s turn.
Artists in Schools started off small, with full residencies in Virginia Cross Elementary in Siler City and North Chatham Elementary near Jordan Lake and performances or limited residencies in a handful of other schools. Now in its second year, it’s expanding to other campuses without leaving any. Once the program is in a school, Chamblee explained, it remains there. Having successive groups of kids in a single school experience the residencies makes a difference in the program’s effectiveness, she said: it’s better to add new schools than to bounce around.
“This kind of program feeds into what is referred to as comprehensive arts education,” Chamblee said. Art teachers are very important, she said, but Artists in Schools programs give kids a model, another perspective on what a real-life artist can be like. The artists involved walk away from the experience fulfilled, as did the educators – and word spread.
“We had principals and teachers from other schools contacting us, saying ‘How can we get this? How can we be next?’ ”
What’s really important, Chamblee said, is to make sure this program supports what teachers are trying to do in the classrooms and doesn’t become a burden on them. Teachers do enough, she said, and the Chatham Arts Council works hard to not have to ask educators to help fund the program.
Instead, the money comes from fundraisers like ClydeFEST or a recent bluegrass concert called Pickin’: A Celebration. Money comes from donors, too, whose gifts help fund this ambitious new in-school initiative. Yet there’s a casual, everyday way to support Chatham Arts Council’s mission, Chamblee said, one as easy as a Facebook share or a retweet of one of the organization’s Meet This Artist profiles.
“Sharing them helps elevate the level of Chatham County artists in the conversation,” Chamblee said.
Chatham Arts Council
118 West St., PO Box 418
Pittsboro, NC 27312
Contact: Cheryl Chamblee, 919-542-0394
Description: The Chatham Arts Council nurtures creative thinkers in Chatham County. We invest in artists with our Meet This Artist and Go See This features, and we educate kids through the arts with ClydeFEST and our Chatham Artists-in-Schools Initiative.
Donations needed: Dollars, and a ScanSnap scanner.
Volunteers needed: New volunteers for ClydeFEST, 3-hour shifts.
$10 would buy: Paint and glitter for kids to bring their Clyde critter cutouts to life.
$20 would buy: An hour of time to interview an artist for their Meet This Artist feature.
$50 would buy: Supplies for a professional artist to use in a residency with an excited fifth-grade class.