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Arts groups seek collaboration

Oct. 09, 2013 @ 08:52 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The local arts community needs a framework under which artists of all types can collaborate with one another.

That was the goal shared by about 75 people who attended the second annual Huntington Arts Summit on Tuesday at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

The event was organized by Margaret Mary Layne, executive director of the Huntington Museum of Art, and a few other community members who want to see the plethora of arts organizations in Huntington work together to showcase their strengths. The inaugural summit last year proved that Huntington has a thriving arts community with a wide range of ideas, but it lacked the structure needed to bring them to fruition, Layne said.

The proposal rolled out Tuesday includes seven working groups that represent different artistic disciplines: Dance, visual arts, design, art education, literary arts, theater and music. Those groups would meet over the next several months and then make presentations at another summit early next year. They also would share their suggestions with a new resource, the Mayor's Council for the Arts. Mayor Steve Williams said the council will form in November and, among other things, create and market a month-long arts festival in Huntington sometime in 2014.

"I want (the council) to supply these groups with any help they may need. For example, do they need assistance with writing a grant? We will have the ability to do that," Williams said. "I want us to be the filter and the disseminator of information and the group that gets the message out there."

Speakers during the summit cited several reasons why now is the time to establish a collective voice for the arts community. For starters, it will increase Huntington's chances of becoming a Certified Arts Community with the West Virginia Arts Commission, said Tyson Compton, director of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB applied for the designation earlier this year, but it was tabled. The commission indicated that it wanted to see more collaboration among varying arts groups, Compton said.

Secondly, Marshall University's Visual Arts Center is scheduled to open in the old Stone & Thomas Building across from Pullman Square on 3rd Avenue in August 2014. The $14.5 million project, which will be the creative hub for 300 art students and include a gallery open to the public on the ground floor, could change the face of the downtown, said Don Van Horn, dean of the College of Arts and Media.

"This building will allow us to redefine the whole nature of visual arts education in higher education," he said. "These are students who are capable of thinking outside the box, and that's what we need to build a better and stronger community. We aren't going to sequester them in this building. We're going to challenge them to become part of the solution-driven process for our community."

Williams said there is no ceiling to what Huntington can accomplish in the arts with a little collaboration. A few presenters shared examples of this success during the summit. Mitzi Sinnott, a Flatwoods, Ky., resident, talked about "Snapshot," her award-winning, one-woman play about her journey to find her father, a Huntington native and veteran who was haunted by his experience in Vietnam. Sinnott has performed the play internationally and now hopes to turn it into a full-feature film.

Since moving back to the region, Sinnott said she has received help from community supporters who raised enough money to put on her play at Marshall and film it so it can be marketed to movie and television producers.

"This group has been a life-changer for me and has made me a believer in the collaborative, creative process in Huntington," Sinnott said. "We don't have to step outside of our community to seek solutions. We can do it right here."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.

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