Executive Director JW Rone creates art that works

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By Lanier Laney

As executive director of ARTworks — the Arts Council of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands — JW Rone oversaw the building of its home in the Beaufort Town Center shopping center next to Omni and BiLo. The location has allowed the organization that has supported arts in Northern Beaufort County for more than 20 years to become a thriving community arts hub.

But it wasn’t JW’s first successful art center to build. After graduating from college with a degree in theater and touring the world for more than 30 years, he became executive director of the Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, Morgan Arts Council where he renovated a 40,000-square-foot former apple cold storage building from the 1930s into an arts center. It helped Berkeley Springs get on the list of 100 best Art Towns in America. It’s also where he met his future wife, Jenny, who was also working on the Morgan Arts Council. Jenny was a big part in helping both Berkeley Springs and Beaufort’s community arts centers get started and grow. The couple found Beaufort because it was also listed as one of the 100 Best Art Cities in America.

Says JW with a smile, “We decided to trade Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, for this 100 Best American Art Town.”  Although he says Jenny’s parents beat them to the area and moved to Port Royal in 2005, just before Jenny and JW arrived on the scene.

ARTworks is a full service community arts center and JW manages all aspects  of the 1,000-square-foot rotating gallery that includes nine artists studios as well as the 120-seat black box theater where they present theatrical productions, intimate concerts of folk and jazz as well as one person historical presentations and their signature Beaufort Intergalactic (BIG) Storytelling Festival.

Storytelling troupes are part of JW’s “Building on our Past, Creating Our Future” program in which Beaufortonians are encouraged to tell their stories too, and not just four days a year at the BIG Story Fest. ARTworks is cultivating storytelling troupes based in schools, libraries and community venues. “Storytelling is an art form, an educational tool, the most powerful tool for effective communication,” JW says. “It’s a form of entertainment, a way to share history and culture. We are all storytellers.”

But whether teaching sixth graders at Beaufort Middle School how to become good storytellers, producing Street Music on Paris Ave in Port Royal or emceeing the BIG Story Fest, JW sees arts education as the one common denominator in his work..

He said, “Arts education is the overreaching element in my work. Even with the free concerts on the street that I produce for the Town of Port Royal, I expose our audiences to lots of different genres of music — the arts education is not overt but inherent in the process.”

Nashville native JW has seen up close how the arts can help enrich a community.  Something as simple as a street performance can bring magic and wonder to a desolate area.

Says JW, “I was trained as an artist in university and as a touring artist I spent over 40 years touring the world performing at festivals, community arts centers, schools, as well as in Europe.” In fact, he paid for his European trip with money earned from passers-by as he entertained with juggling, magic, fire eating and comedy (his first experience with “arts funding”).

Today he has to apply for grants to fund his far reaching projects.  But the basic fundamentals were learned on the street:  Always be entertaining, not boring (or the audience literally walks away).   And if the audience can’t come to you, go to them, thus his involvement in the Port Royal street concert series and the forays into local schools.

ARTworks is also an arts incubator and over the past four years they have had 30 clients — 10 of whom are operating their own stand-alone businesses in Beaufort. Of the other 20, only five are not currently working in the arts while the rest have moved on and are creating arts businesses all over the country from New York City to San Diego.

Says JW, “This additional economic development work that we do is sometimes overlooked and I would like to bring it to peoples attention. The arts are important to attracting other businesses from other areas to come here. They are a quality of life issue and we are proud to be one of the driving forces for the arts in our community.”

Does JW have any regrets in committing his life’s work and energy to Beaufort these past many years? JW says, “As a touring artist, I remembered the amount of support for the arts here and thought it would be a good place to live. Little did any of us know that the economy would fail the way it has and that the govenor would be trying to eliminate the State Arts Commission which was once one of the best funded in the entire Southeast.”

What’s JW got in the works for the future at ARTworks?

Says JW with a big grin, “I’m excited about our new Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival! I hope everyone will join us for all the fun April 11-14. We offer so many arts events it is hard to single out just one. Visit our website and get the details on all the events, classes and workshops we offer.”

Check out their website at www.artworksinbeaufort.org and get the straight scoop on all the exciting events ARTworks offers or call 843-379 2787.