The Power of Potters - In Saving the NC Pottery Center
By, Tom Starland
October 21st, 2008
Don’t mess with a North Carolina potter! Or their Pottery Center. At least that’s the word I have for anyone doubting the importance of the NC Pottery Center located in the small community of Seagrove, NC. I have just received word that $100,000 + has been raised to save the NC Pottery Center.
It was just three months ago when I decided to stop by the Pottery Center to see an exhibition of pottery by Native American Indians in hopes of doing a review for my new blog on my way to Greensboro, NC. It was an excellent show and while I was there almost an hour - no where did I see or hear any indication that the Center was in the middle of an area-wide controversy or financial trouble. It wasn’t until I arrived in Greensboro that a friend asked me about the troubles at the Pottery Center based on a newspaper article he read there in Greensboro.
I went online and found his concerns were true. There was big trouble in Seagrove. And, as I researched the issue I learned that all of the fuss was being caused by a few individuals who were more interested in a power grab than what was good for Seagrove, the Pottery Center and the potters in the area. Based on some of the outlandish claims being made by these individuals - which I knew to be untrue from my own experience in dealing with the Pottery Center I decided to stand on the side of local potters in Seagrove and the Pottery Center. It was just a ridiculous notion that we could loose this marvelous ten year old center because of the back-room dealings of a few.
And, I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t imagine losing this wonderful center of pottery history and resource center for contemporary pottery in not just Seagrove, but North Carolina, and the Carolinas. In three months, during what could be easily termed as the worst economic time in the US - hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of people put their money in the kitty to help save the NC Pottery Center.
Leading the charge was the Board of the NC Pottery Center and local potters networking with potters in North Carolina and eventually potters everywhere. And, the public responded by sending in checks, making electronic donations, purchasing pots that were donated to help benefit the Center, buying raffle tickets and making auction bids.
There is no doubt that a few individuals did more in this effort. Dr. Everette James and his wife Nancy Farmer donated part of their pottery collection to be auctioned off to benefit the Pottery Center. Leland Little Auction and Estate Sales, Ltd. in Hillsborough, NC, donated their services for that auction which raised $35,000. An anonymous NC couple offered a $10,000 challenge contribution to cap the Pottery Center’s fund drive once the Center raised $90,000 in honor of Drs. Everette James and Nancy Farmer. I’m sure there where others who deserve mention, but I just don’t have their names at this time. But everyone who made a contribution - no matter how small or even if it was in just spreading the word - they made a difference. They saved the NC Pottery Center - for now.
The ultimate goal is for the State of North Carolina to take over operation of the NC Pottery Center under the North Carolina Arts Council - a state arts agency. But, under the current economy - that might take some time yet, so the fight might not be over just yet. A fundraising goal has been met, but the long-term future is still unknown, but it does look brighter today.
Another contributing factor in the fundraising effort was blogging potters around the Carolinas. When the call when out for help - the word spread fast and far. I had a hard time keeping up with all the things that were going on and I eventually came to rely on Meredith Heywood of Whynot Pottery in Seagrove, who was blogging on her own blog (http://whynotpotteryblog.blogspot.com/) and eventually set up another blog - Potters for the NC Pottery Center (http://pottersforncpc.blogspot.com/). She had lots of help from others who were feeding her info or helping with the blog. And, what’s really amazing is that during all this mess - she and her husband, also a potter, were dealing with rebuilding their studio which burned down in July.
Also let’s don’t forget that there were a few victims during this battle to save the Pottery Center. First and foremost was the loss of the Center’s director, Denny Mecham. The Center’s board in an effort cut expensive had to cut Mecham’s position to a part-time level and then all together. Mecham was unable to wait and see how the fundraising effort would go, and took a position as the new executive director of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi. Talented people don’t have to wait too long for good job offers. The Potter Center’s exhibition schedule was also adjusted, putting major shows on the back burner. And, although some say all publicity is good - it’s not always good for everyone. The anxiety levels of area potters caught up in the controversy has taken its toll - causing some to take sides in a very small community.
What have I learned from all this? One - Potters have a strong network and sense of community. Two - If you work hard for something - a good cause - people will respond and help, even in tough times. Three - the power of the blog in spreading the word about issues. And, Four - just another reminder - the arts are important to people.
Although the $100,000 goal has been met - if you’re so inclined and have the funds - I would still advise anyone to make a contribution or participate in one of the still ongoing fundraisers. It won’t hurt and I’m sure it can be put to good use.
Now, go visit the Center you helped save. The doors are open