Making the arts Personal

Posted: February 5, 2012 at 9:46 am

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Walk into Bryant Whelan’s office at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural and Arts Center, and you know she is an avid collector of art, especially folk arts.

There are face jugs, primitive works, a small Choctaw basket she acquired during a trip to Jackson, a pine needle basket with colorful yarn.

“And this is a handmade book,” she said, picking up the volume and opening its clay cover, revealing pale green pages inside. “The paper is handmade, too.”

In fact, handmade is what especially draws Whelan to a work.

“I love handmade paper and jewelry. I make jewelry myself, and I paint, and I’ve always been supportive of local artists,” she said.

A mixed assemblage angel hangs on the wall near her desk. Like many works in Whelan’s office, the angel has a story.

“I saw one of her works and said, ‘This is spiritually speaking to me.’ I wanted to meet Provie Musso, who did it, but somebody said she had just left. After that, I would go around asking people, ‘Do you know Provie Musso?’ I finally did meet her, and we became fast friends. Now, I’m planning for her to do a workshop here,” she said. “She’ll bring in wood, found objects and metal, and people will get to pound and paint and come back with a wonderful piece of their own.”

Whelan’s plan to bring the Daphne, Ala., artist to do a workshop at the Mary C. is a tangible example of what the center’s new executive director has in store for the community, the Coast and area visitors: personalizing art -- all kinds of art -- making it accessible and multidimensional to all.

“I just started the third of January, so I’m still getting my feet wet,” she said. “I’m getting more acquainted with what’s working and what needs attention.”

One of the first goals is building membership, Whelan said.

“We have a great base membership and fantastic volunteers, but we need more,” she said. Whelan sees opportunities for a variety of needs to be met through resources at the center.

“This morning, a woman and her son came in. She has been in physical rehab, and she was interested in working with clay; she thought it would be good therapy for her hands. She’s in her 70s, and she wants to take clay courses,” she said.

Whelan, a Mobile native, has lived in several places, including Atlanta, Nashville and Edinburgh, Scotland, and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and the arts. She came to the Mary C. already aware of what Ocean Springs has to offer.

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Making the arts Personal

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February 5th, 2012 at 9:46 am