Art is For Everyone
Brunswick Arts Council Executive Director Mary Beth Livers works to provide artistic and creative experiences for all Brunswick County residents.
Art is for everyone. Mary Beth Livers is the embodiment of that statement.
Since October 2019, when she was named executive director of Brunswick County Arts Council (BAC), she has been working to broaden the idea of what art is. She has worked to encompass the mediums of visual, music and dance with literary arts and a wide variety of performing arts and also to encourage the inner artist in each and every county resident by creating opportunities for exploring a variety of arts in classes and workshops offered at low or no cost. Furthermore, she has expanded the reach of the council by partnering with the libraries and senior centers and initiating work with the schools to open up audiences and art learning experiences.
Bringing this global vision to Brunswick County is a natural for Livers. Her own background includes the arts and a wide variety of activities that promote the arts, in our county most recently and in various parts of the United States before that.
Born in Florida, Livers spent several years in Indiana, graduated from high school in Baldwin, New York, and went to college in upstate New York. She moved from the Finger Lakes area to take a job with the Old Baldy Foundation in 2011. She worked in several jobs in Brunswick County as well as volunteered with arts organizations in the area.
“Art has always been a part of my life — I actually spent the first part of every high school day in an arts studio and my first several years of college at SUNY Purchase—cultural history, interpretation, duration and exhibit design,” she says.
Susan Sims-Pritts the previous executive director, says of Livers, “The arts are her passion,” also noting that Livers has work experience in the arts both broad and deep, including administrative abilities and more.
“She is very much in line with what the council wanted in a leader — the desire to grow the organization and to expand beyond visual and musical arts,” Sims-Pritts says. “Livers is effective, I think, because of her organizational skills, grant-writing skills and communication ability. She has never met a stranger. The council is the perfect stage for her to put all of her skills into practice. I am so glad she has been able to step right in.”
Kimberley Kirk, an artist who has worked with Livers on a number of projects, says, “Mary Beth’s commitment to the arts is 24-7. She is trying to spread the arts in different ways in various communities throughout Brunswick County. She takes and idea and runs with it, following it to fruition. I totally enjoy working with Mary Beth. I call her the Energizer Bunny.”
An example of how Livers has expanded the definition of arts in the county is the way she has reached out to the written and spoken word arts. Livers looks at such expansion as a natural.
“Many of us grew up with family that self-entertained in the evenings —songs, storytelling, reading, dancing, music,” Livers says. “This changed in the latter part of the twentieth century to a more passive, purely visual entertainment of television and computers.”
She notes that twenty-first century technology is now allowing us to create a visual campfire, bringing back some of that interactive aspect in front of a screen as with Zoom.
“Regardless of the culture, the arts have always been by the people of the people for the people,” Livers says. “Individuals, communities and the organizations as well as the public entities should all encourage and support arts for all. … They are tied to our mental, physical and emotional health as well as to our math, science, music and visual skills. … Art should wholly fit into our well roundedness of life as hobbies, therapies, social interactions, entertainment and career paths.”
When it comes to written word and spoken word arts in Brunswick, Livers says, “There is a whole new movement (here) of reflection and creative self-expression. BAC is a thread trying to connect them, providing support, fiscal or marketing, to let them shine.”
BAC is already working with several organizations such as Cape Fear Writers Academy, NEA Big Read, Poetry Zooming Out loud, Writers of the Forest, Poetry Revisited and Tar Heel Tellers as well as helping revive Poetry Opens Doors. BAC is also ready to begin projects such as a county-wide fiction writing contest, and Livers incorporates written arts in her workshop and class lineups.
Sims-Pritts notes that Livers has already made a lot of progress on increasing the arts outreach in Brunswick County. “She has increased outreach programs and revived others, including a wonderful Gullah Geechee program. She got the Wilmington Ballet involved in Dancing on Air, a dance project for African-American communities — something that was getting the whole family involved. It had a hiatus during COVID but is back. Livers has already done a lot with writing and spoken word arts. She has resources and contacts to assist the large numbers of folk in our county who want to do things in making their visions become a reality.”
Expanding to join the BAC to various arts organizations in the county and to other organizations that can host arts and art projects is one way that Livers brings more art activities to Brunswick County citizens. Livers explains how she has started working with the libraries and the senior centers. For example, she brought the Red Dress exhibit (an art installation bringing attention to missing women) to the county libraries and has been working to bring a variety of programs to senior centers, like the Stone Chimney Supply Center’s recent receipt of funds for a drumming program.
“The libraries and senior centers can work with us to help match artists to different centers for programs and workshops, like our healing arts workshops,” Livers says.
It is also a part of her plan for art organizations in the county to understand the needs and systems of the public and private schools and homeschool communities and to collaborate with them to create projects and programs that will reach all students. She adds that when it comes to schools, “We also have several teachers on our board and hope to identify projects and programs to create future student enrichment programs and artist in residence opportunities.”
Sims-Pritts says she doesn’t think there’s anything Livers can’t do.
“She is so approachable and level-headed while also being inspired by everything around her,” she says. “She sees connections between people and possibilities and has the energy and skill to make it happen.”