Big MAC attack

May 23, 2002|BY KEVIN CLAPP

In the mid-90s the Morgan Arts Council had what seemed like a can't miss brainstorm, a Five Rings Festival to accentuate a different art form annually for five years.

The first, focused on theater, was a rousing success; the second, an ode to visual arts, proved an able follow-up. Year three yielded a less successful storytelling event.

"And then we did, in some mad moment, one that had to do with digital art and video and streaming art on the Internet," recalls MAC co-founder Jeanne Mozier. "And it was a total disaster."


Exit festival, stage right.

Luckily, success has thus far outweighed failure for the arts council.

The organization, which has incubated the burgeoning Berkeley Springs, W.Va., arts community, celebrates 25 years this weekend with a Sunday to Monday event hearkening back to the past while keeping a steady eye on the future.

"It really is a small nucleus of people who have worked long and hard and are dedicated to its continued expansion in the community," says Jenny Banner Wheeler, MAC president.

From the first few events to a more explosive, mixed media slate during the last decade, the arts council continues to stretch itself while creating a community where art is everywhere but on the fringes.

Sunday, regional band Possum Holler will perform before a more extensive Monday program, including a square dance featuring Critton Hollow String Band. It was Critton Hollow that played MAC's first square dances in 1977.

Among the group's strengths, Mozier says, is a fearlessness that allows for noble failure.

Take the Five Rings.

"We tried something and it just didn't work, and that was it," Mozier says.

She's also proud of the mindset the community has adopted in reference to the arts. From a culture where artists may not have been aware of their local contemporaries, Berkeley Springs has grown into a place where art is an important part of the infrastructure that requires nurturing.

"If you want your art to be part of what's happening in the community you have to be there when decisions are being made," Mozier says. "One of the strong aspects of our arts council is we encourage not only presentation of the arts but active participation of the arts by those members of the community who want to take part."

She's MAC president now, but when Wheeler moved to the area in 1997 she had no idea of how entrenched MAC was.

What she discovered is that rather than adopt a divide and conquer approach, the various local arts interests realized the power of unity in creating an artistic culture.

"It's so incredible, when you look at just this small area and what they've been able to do," Wheeler says. "We're a focused entity and that's why it works. There aren't five different organizations working independently; they're working together."

Others have certainly taken notice. For five years, AmericanStyle magazine has conducted a poll to determine America's Top 25 Arts Destinations. Bumping elbows with such predictable top spots as New York, San Francisco and Chicago is Berkeley Springs.

The town is No. 12 in the just released 2002 poll, up six slots from 2001, and the recognition doesn't surprise Mozier.

But she readily admits that, like the Five Rings, there have been hiccups along the way.

For a time, near its 10th anniversary, interest in MAC waned. A summer concert series initiated at its 10th birthday, coupled with the growth of Berkeley Springs as a tourist destination, helped spur the MAC into its golden age.

Sure, ideas may fall flat from time to time, but Mozier is confident about the group's continued viability.

"Art is not something separate," Mozier says. "It should be a part of daily life around here, and I think that it's turned out to be."

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