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Arts: Umbrella group expands its range of events

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

New director Leslie Ayres is filling the calendar with events at the Cultural Council of Georgetown County. The group, founded as an umbrella for the county’s arts organizations, has become an active participant with its own gallery, art shows and lessons, concerts and events.

The council will host a gallery opening for a Black History Month art show Sunday at 4 p.m. at its headquarters at 922 Front St., Georgetown. It will be brief, Ayres said, to accommodate the Super Bowl’s kickoff at 6:30. The following Sunday, Feb. 8, the council will host a performance by the U.S. Air Force Rhythm and Blues Band at the Waccamaw High School Auditorium at 4 p.m. And its annual Mardi Gras parade and party on Feb. 17 will be twice as big as last year with 600 tickets selling quickly, she said.

Ayres was chairman of the board when director Scott Jacobs decided to leave for Michigan last year. She took over day-to-day duties as interim director and was hired for the job. Ayres said she got her marketing savvy by watching her mother direct boat shows, sports car shows and events around the country. “I grew up in Detroit with an opportunity for art and theater and travel to New York,” she said. “My parents took me everywhere. I was very fortunate in that.” She said she turned the skills like party planning and marketing she learned from her mother toward what she loved: art.

Ayres and her husband, Kevin, came from Michigan for a second honeymoon at the South Carolina coast and never left. They bought a house in Willbrook Plantation but sold it five years ago for a country place big enough for their three children to join them. He got a job as a pharmacist with Georgetown Memorial Hospital. After selling a cosmetics business in Surfside Beach, she joined the Cultural Council board because of her interest in art, not expecting it to become full-time.

Success of events like last year’s appearance of the U.S. Army Band at Francis Marion Park on Front Street have led to more success: the Air Force Band wanting to schedule a date. “The bands work together,” Ayres said, “and the Army Band had a good experience here with 350 people in the park. We were thrilled to have them. Now we are in their system, and they would love to be able to come up and down the East Coast.”

The Mardi Gras parade and party will be a joint venture with the Georgetown Business Association for the third year. The parade, led by a Fat Tuesday king and queen, begins at Front and King streets at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 17. The party begins at the S.C. Maritime Museum at 7 p.m. Plans call for a big tent in the adjoining parking lot to handle the expected overflow crowd. Tickets are $20 each.

Artists Danny McLaughlin and Lillian Cotton teach classes at the council gallery during the week, and Ayres said she was just contacted by an artist who wants to teach young children on Saturday afternoons. She plans children’s summer camps for art, puppetry, theater and even woodworking and said details are due soon on plans to send art teachers to the Pee Dee and Choppee communities, the Salvation Army and the Mitney Project using grant money. The goal will be to develop artists and help the talented ones into Governor’s School.

In music, the council conducts a “Young Treasures” program and gave out 25 scholarships last year for classical performance instruction. Ayres said a new program, “American Roots,” will promote original American music like jazz, blues and gospel. She saw the powerful attraction of music last year when the council brought Detroit jazz musician De’Sean Jones to the Maritime Museum for a show and to Andrews and Carvers Bay high schools to talk to students.

“He connected so well with the kids,” Ayres said, “that when he came back in May a young man refused to go to a dental appointment in order to hear him again.”

Ayres said the Cultural Council is fortunate to be included in the annual Day of Giving for non-profits May 5. It is one of six Georgetown County organizations joining others from Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties that will have all donations collected that day matched dollar for dollar by the Coastal Community Foundation. “We are very honored to be asked to do it,” she said.

The council is making plans for its annual Chocolate Sunday event Sept. 14 at a plantation house. It’s been at Springfield and Millbrook plantations the last two years and selection of this year’s venue is still in the works.

“We’ve got a lot of really exciting things planned,” Ayres said. “It’s going to be fun.”

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