New Executive Director of Brunswick Arts Council Focuses on Growth Through Arts
Social worker, program developer, administrative assistant, small business owner, consultant, volunteer, and marketing general manager, to name a few. Susan Sims-Pritts has a long list of career experience, but her goal for it all is short and simple.
“My mission in life has been to broaden experiences,” she says reflectively. “I grow people and organizations.”
Leaving three years of retirement, Sims-Pritts was recently hired as the new part-time executive director of the Brunswick Arts Council (BAC). BAC President Gary Halberstadt installed Sims-Pritts during the opening reception of the 17th Annual Fall Art Exhibition and Sale in Southport, which ran October 16-28.
Sims-Pritts is a vivid, well-rounded, and perceptive woman who uses her strengths in organizing, funding, and implementing programs to better her community.
Upon receiving her bachelors in social work from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she was a program developer and manager in that field for 15 years focusing on childcare advocacy and early childhood intervention. She went on to coordinate programs and provide administrative duties with her parish church in Wilmington, own a consulting and advocacy business offering pro-bono services to small businesses, non-profits, and individuals, and currently manages marketing and social media for the Wilmington Choral Society.
In the mid-90s, she helped form an early childhood interagency council that provides a resource of services in Brunswick County for those children with special needs. Later she was the general manager of InsiderInfo.us for 14 years and directed its marketing strategies.
In addition, she has volunteered her consulting services, designed costumes for local performing arts, and used her talent as a vocalist in choral groups.
“This is just one of my passions, supporting the arts,” Sims-Pritts says.
Believing that the arts are integral to any healthy community’s life and economy, she reflects on the mission of the BAC that was founded 36 years ago. Its mission is “to inspire and promote appreciation, education, participation, and support for a broad range of arts and cultural interests” for everyone in the county by providing arts-related events, educational programs, workshops, grants for individual artists and groups, and scholarships.
The council is like “an umbrella for all of the arts in the county,” explains Sims-Pritts.
Its membership consists of residents, businesses, artists, non-artists, and members from Associated Artists of Southport, Oak Island Art Guild, Waterway Art Association, and The Artisans of St. James. The board’s representatives are from those groups and the several divisions of the BAC focusing on grants and development, literary and performing arts, and educational and multicultural programs.
Sims-Pritts’ dedication to serving others especially through the arts stemmed from her upbringing.
“I suppose part of it’s genetic, but I think part of it’s cultural,” she says about her artistic background. Raised in a culturally rich Birmingham, Alabama, Sims-Pritts and her two siblings were encouraged in all the arts by her parents, both teachers, who exposed them to poetry, theater, and all of Shakespeare’s plays, “which we read when we were young whether we understood them or not,” she says humorously.
“For me, the arts were…” she says, and pauses thoughtfully, “a way for me to express my creativity.
As a young girl, instead of playing with her dolls she would sew clothes for them. By age 12 she was making costumes for school plays, and in high school, she was singing in chorus, musicals and participating in festivals.
She found the arts as an outlet for exploring and understanding her life. “If I was upset about something or trying to figure something out, I would be in my room drawing, painting, writing poetry, reading.”
“I can’t imagine living day to day without some artistic expression,” she says.
Even so, she considers herself a “day-to-day artist” rather than a fine artist. “I play piano badly. I paint badly,” she admits lightheartedly.
But her experience with the arts’ impact on the personal and cultural level is what Sims-Pritts hopes to make even more available to the community as the council and county continue to grow.
Over the past seven years, the BAC generated $700,000 of income into the local economy enhancing the quality and diversity of the community.
As an example, she cites how this summer the council worked alongside Brunswick County Parks and Recreation to co-sponsor a series of concerts and movies that employed 372 artists and reached over 100,000 people. The BAC made this event and others possible through its partnership with the North Carolina Arts Council and their Grass Roots grants program that benefits non-profit art groups.
“The new executive director position, funded in part by the county commissioners, is evidence of this wonderful time of growth in Brunswick County, and growth for the Arts Council as we develop new programs for residents and artists with opportunities that will enhance quality of life in many ways,” Sims-Pritts states.
Part of her responsibilities as the executive director will be to meet with private citizens and community leaders to find out their needs in the arts sector.
“The need to create…is just intrinsic to being human,” she says.
Advocating for, funding, and implementing services to support this basic creative need and reflect the growing diversity of the community will be the bulk of her role.
One of Sims-Pritts goals is to continue the council’s efforts to provide art activities for children and seniors.
In particular, she hopes the BAC will join efforts in children’s academics to move from STEM to STEAM with arts-related activities.
The council has already made strides by collaborating with Brunswick schools and implementing the Arts in Schools program. From this program, Sims-Pritts says, student exposure to the arts was shown to improve grades and class participation by 60 percent and lower dropouts by 20 percent.
With a growing population of retired seniors in the county, Sims-Pritts wants to expand the council’s arts program for this age group by continuing to develop a cooperative program with Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc. This year the Oak Island Art Guild was able to hold free monthly art workshops and activities for nursing home residents through BAC grants.
She also wants to reach out to rural parts of the county and make the arts accessible to everyone in the region. She notes, residents there have the same needs for the arts as those in the “fertile crescent” (what she calls the Cape Fear and coastal regions), but access has been limited.
“It seems that most of the people in the county have assumed that the membership in the arts council is only for artists,” she says. “But it’s for everybody.”
With plans for membership and volunteer drives she hopes to raise awareness that membership is affordable and open to anyone. Individuals can join for a yearly fee of $25, and donations can be made at any time.
However, what she most looks forward to, she says, is “to meet people in the community…and to find out what they want.”
As she takes on this next role, Sims-Pritts will assuredly maintain her simple goal of meeting people where they are and helping them flourish.
More information about the Brunswick Arts Council can be found at www.brunswickartscouncil.org.