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Arts Association set to kick off 24th season

Now in its 24th year, the Arts Association in Newton County's 2008-09 performance season may be more significant for what it doesn't include than for what it does.

One thing not included in five of the 15 events scheduled for the upcoming season is an admission charge, as concerts by Seth Decker and the Missing Piece (Sept. 13), jazz saxophonist Angella Christie (Sept. 26) and the Newton County Community Band (Dec. 1 and April 27) will all be presented free of charge.

In addition, the Images of Western Art and Artists exhibit (Oct. 6-24 at Oxford College) and the annual True Colors art exhibit (March 3-27 at the Newton County Library) are also free attractions.

"We're very sensitive to today's economy," said Arts Association executive director Buncie Hay Lanners, who added that current financial pinches have also affected the organization's operating budget. "The economy is drastically affecting us all, and we want to make sure events are offered at an affordable price, or with no admission at all, whenever we can.

"The arts are all about bridging communities and a good way to build that bridge is to offer free events."

Another aspect of the schedule which won't be as prevalent this year is the number of classical music concerts, a decision organizers arrived at after receiving input from an array of patrons.

While the classics will be well represented locally with the Covington Regional Ballet's presentation of "The Nutcracker" (Dec. 13-14) and "Sleeping Beauty" (May 1, May 3) and the Oxford Youth Singers and Oxford Singing Children's annual "Christmas in Covington" concerts (Dec. 5-6), the only other classical music recitals on the docket include celebrated pianist Joyce Yang (Nov. 1) and the Dallas Brass (March 6).

"We look at our past seasons and we look at ticket sales and interest," said Lanners, who has served as the Arts Association's executive director for seven years. "We always want to bring incredible classical music offerings and we also want to increase participation, so we've moved away from those kinds of concerts.

"But the classical music concerts we'll have will be extraordinary, because Joyce Yang will host an in-school residency appearance for all of the county's middle school students, and the Dallas Brass will not only have a residency with the county's high school bands, they'll also select several brass players to appear with them on the night of their concert."

"Our demographics are changing," added Ric Chiapetta, the artistic director of the Arts Association and the person responsible for booking the various artists on the schedule. "We take seriously the responses we get from our patrons and they say they enjoy classical music but want a more eclectic season. We're the Arts Association for all of Newton County, and with that in mind, we want to make sure we reach out and provide events that attract all kinds of folks."

And with performances by the Covington Regional Ballet, T.K. Adams' Newton County Community Band, Oxford Singing Children and Oxford Youth Singers, the Arts Association is reminding those in the east metro area that there are a great many talented artists being developed.

"I've always tried to achieve a balance between local talent and others," said Chiapetta. "Some arts organizations refuse to look in their own neighborhoods for talented folks. We're fortunate to be able to bring in fantastic regional, national and international artists, but sometimes outside talent isn't all that much better than what you've got at home.

"We have many talented performers in our midst, and while we're not shying away from inviting world-class performers to our stages, we also feel it's important to showcase the talent we have here."

Lanners was particularly enamored with the continuing progress of the ballet troupe and the Oxford choral ensembles.

"Our 'Nutcracker' gets better every year - last year's show was breathtaking," she said. "It has reached the heights you expect from a professional company. We've seen this community really come to appreciate ballet, and it's always fun to see the little girls in their costumes dancing in the aisles. And it's not just people coming to see their children or neighbors - fans of classical ballet are also coming to our shows."

Having the Newton County Community Band - celebrating its 15th anniversary - on the bill this season is also an exciting prospect, said Lanners.

"T.K. Adams started this program, and it's always had its own feet," she said. "At first, the Community Band was under the auspices of the Recreation Department when it was managed by the city, and about seven or eight years ago, we decided they fit better within the Arts Association.

"T.K. has been an Arts Association board member, and he's our go-to expert on a lot of issues. The band has become beloved in the community, and they're still drawing crowds and performing high-quality music. We thought the time was right for them to be a part of our schedule. We're honored that they'll be with us."

Two events on the schedule have decidedly country roots. On Nov. 22, country music star (and nearby Watkinsville resident) John Berry will return for the third time in recent years to share his love of the Christmas season, and Jan. 24 will feature "A Tribute to Johnny Cash," featuring Rusty Evans and a host of the Man in Black's best songs, including "Ring of Fire," "I Walk the Line," "Big River" and "Folsom Prison Blues."

"Whenever John Berry wants to play here, we want to have him because he's so popular," said Lanners. "When you find something that people really love, you want to give it to them as much as you can. He likes to come here and we love to have him - it's always a sellout."

Both Lanners and Chiapetta are hopeful, as are all in the arts, that patrons will attend an event that they've circled on their calendars and will be so impressed with the operation that they'll consider taking a chance on something they may not be as familiar with.

"We've got a terrific season, something for everybody," said Lanners. "We hope people will come see something they like and then will cross over and try something new."

"We always hope folks will check out something else," added Chiapetta. "The more you do that, the more you can broaden your appreciation of all live arts."

For more information on the Arts Association in Newton County's 2008-09 performance season, call 770-786-8188 or visit www.newtoncountyarts.org.

SideBar: SCHEDULE:

Saturday, Sept. 20: Seth Decker and the Missing Piece, Covington Square, Free

Friday, Sept. 26: Jazz Saxophonist Angella Christie, Covington Square, Free

Oct. 6-24: Images of Western Art & Artists, Oxford College, Free

Saturday, Nov. 1, Pianist Joyce Yang, Porter Hall, $20, $17, $10

Nov. 22: John Berry, Porter Hall, $27, $24, $10

Dec. 1: Newton County Community Band, Eastside High School, Free

Dec. 5-6: Christmas in Covington, First United Methodist Church, $15, $12, $10

Dec. 13-14: The Nutcracker, Porter Hall, $22, $19, $10

Jan. 24: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, Porter Hall, $22, $19, $10

March 3-27: True Colors art exhibit, Newton County Library, Free

March 6: Dallas Brass, Porter Hall, $20, $15, $10

April 17, April 19: Guys & Dolls, Porter Hall, $15, $12, $10

April 27: Newton County Community Band, Eastside High School, Free

May 1, May 3: Sleeping Beauty, Porter Hall, $18, $15, $10

May 9: Art on the River dance, Porterdale Mill Lofts, $25