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Leland’s Art Attack: Jill Brown is the Town of Leland’s first cultural arts manager.

In the last few years Leland’s incredible population explosion has slowed and the city has turned its eye toward creating a sense of community. These efforts have resulted in new parks, the creation of a Tourism Development Authority, the construction of new community buildings and the addition of a few new faces. One of those faces is Jill Brown, the first Cultural Arts Manager in the town’s history.

“I’m excited,” says Brown. “I have the challenge of building a new arts program from the ground up in a community that told their leaders, ‘Hey, culture and the arts, they’re important to us,’ and the leaders listened.”

Brown will be building her program at the new Cultural Arts Center at 1212 Magnolia Village Way. The new facility has a sizable auditorium, a dance studio, pottery and painting studios, a wood shop and a classroom. That’s plenty of room for community members to create and exhibit art as well as perform plays and recitals.

“I don’t want to start small,” she says. “I want to open the doors to our new facility with a pretty full slate of classes and activities.”

Doing so will be a bit of a challenge for Brown. Not because she lacks experience, she’s got plenty of that — five years as the director of the Sertoma Arts Center in Raleigh, manager of the Durham Arts Council’s art school and facility, and faculty member at Bowling Green State University — but because the community and its needs are new to her. That means a fair amount of her time, at first anyway, will be spent talking with community members about what they want and what they need and then lining up qualified instructors to lead classes.

“For this thing to succeed, the Cultural Arts Center has to serve the community,” she says. “That means working in tandem to meet as many needs as possible, and by that I mean serving our adult, teen, youth and preschool citizens.”

In her varied tenures as a professional art instructor and program director, Brown has designed and taught courses providing arts education and outreach for each of these constituencies and believes that Leland’s vibrant and still-expanding (albeit more slowly than in the past) population is ripe and ready for an artistic outlet.

“I started as a middle school art teacher,” Brown says, “and when I came in, I worked in photography, painting, drawing, and sculpture: I had to learn them and begin doing them myself, so I did. And I found that I liked them all quite well.”

When she moved away from middle school teaching to join the faculty at Bowling Green State University as an art instructor working with future teachers, she stressed the need for proficiency, practice and enjoyment of working in several artistic disciplines. But it wasn’t until she left her native state of Ohio to work for the Durham Arts Council that she realized the breadth of her statement. To her, several mediums meant her love of photography, and then drawing with pen, pencil, charcoal and pastel; oil, acrylic and watercolor painting; and pottery and sculpture. She’s always offered programs in those mediums. She has a strong grasp on the visual arts as well.

Here in Leland, the importance of the performing arts is not lost on her, and it takes, pun intended, center stage at the Community Arts Center.

“Once I embraced the performing arts, I found that I loved it just as much as every other artistic outlet I’ve encountered,” Brown says. “We have a beautiful auditorium and dance rehearsal space at the Arts Center, and I hope folks there are as excited to use them as I am.”

The sizable auditorium, which has more than 250 seats, will host plays, recitals and even musical performances throughout the year. Given the vibrancy of Wilmington’s film and theater scene and the number of Leland residents interested in performing, it shouldn’t take long for the Cultural Arts Center to begin staging plays and performances that reflect on the town’s culture and showcase the community’s talents.

As an avid cook, Brown recognizes the creativity that goes into the culinary arts. From a beautifully plated dish to the selection of ingredients to the techniques – classical or innovative – she sees a dish’s value as an artistic outlet.

Brown would like to add a cooking class and work with a chef or pastry chef in the same way as she would with a watercolor instructor.

Also on her wish list for the Leland Community Arts Center is outreach to homeschoolers and communities.

“I taught middle school and I know that at that age, kids need to learn about the arts and need to find their artistic voice,” Brown says. “I hope we can work on programming that will mesh with the educational goals of the homeschool crowd in Leland and beyond.”

Homeschool groups would ideally use the Arts Center during the day, a time when many such facilities are underutilized, unlike with the centers where Brown has been posted in recent years. In Raleigh and Durham she saw lively daylight crowds of retirees coming in for figure drawing groups and painting classes and to use the pottery studios and explore their own artistic methods and outlets. With Leland’s very active senior crowd, that should be no problem.

Brown says she’d like to see the programming at the Cultural Arts Center grow to include on-site classes in some of the developments around Leland. En plein air oil painting classes, watercolor groups, photography outings and other classes could easily utilize the space, nature, talents and facilities found around town. With successful outdoor programming already in place in communities like Brunswick Forest, she sees opportunities to collaborate with outside groups and offer programs like kayaking photo safaris to uncover inspiration in nature.

“The culture here, it’s invigorating, especially for such a small area,” Brown says. “You have the university, retirees, beaches, rivers and a truly eclectic mix of interests, backgrounds and artistic tastes. All of that will come together to make for a lively arts scene. Add to all this the fact that the Town of Leland, the leaders here, are behind it, and you have a real chance at success here.”

The Town of Leland Cultural Arts Center will offer a variety of classes for adults, teens and kids, from painting, drawing, woodworking, pottery, acting and dancing to literary arts like writing groups and classes. Slated to open in the fall of 2013, the center will have a full menu of classes available from the start.

Check the Cultural Arts Center’s website:
www.townofleland.com/recreation-cultural-arts-center and calendar page for more information on opening dates and upcoming classes and events.

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