Local arts leaders spotlight creators to watch in 2021

NEW CHEER: Clockwise from top left, actors Ana-Alicia Carroll and Aaron Ybarra, adé PROJECT founder Cortina Caldwell and LEAF Global Arts community engagement director Marsha Almodovar are among the local artists and arts leaders to watch in 2021. Photo of Carroll courtesy of the artist. Photo of Ybarra by Jeff Haffner. Photo of Caldwell by Katie Cornell. Photo of Almodovar by Reggie Tidwell

Xpress asked local arts leaders in various mediums to identify up-and-coming or underseen peers that readers should be on the lookout for in 2021. They did not disappoint.

Katie Cornell, Asheville Area Arts Council executive director:

    • Marsha Almodovar is the community engagement director at LEAF Global Arts. Through the Easel Rider mobile art lab and other
      Katie Cornell

      virtual programs, she’s making sure that children across the county have access to arts programs during this time of isolation. She is also a driving force behind racial equity reforms in the arts sector, using her extensive Racial Equity Institute training to help advise LEAF, as well as the city’s Public Art and Cultural Commission and the Asheville Downtown Association by serving on both groups’ board of directors. We served together on the Celebrating African Americans through Public Art leadership team, and she was also part of the leadership team for the Black Live Matter mural in Pack Square.

    • In 2020, Sekou Coleman became executive director of the Asheville Writers in the Schools & Community. Over the years, he’s led many local initiatives and understands the importance of the arts on community health. In his new role, he’s expanding AWITSC programs in exciting ways, including most recently leading the organization’s move to the Edington Center.
    • Cortina Caldwell, founder and creative force behind adé PROJECT, just spent the last half of 2020 facilitating the Vance Monument Task Force. She also led community conversations around the now-concluded Broadway Cultural Gateway project, and the Celebrating African Americans through Public Art project — a subcommittee of the Public Art and Cultural Commission that resulted in the Hope Springs Forth Brightly installations in front of the fire station and at the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Eagle Street. I expect we will see more from her as the Vance Monument discussion continues into 2021.

Joseph Pearson, painter, lead artist of Asheville Black Lives Matter mural:

Joseph Pearson
      • Andrea Kulish’s pysanky egg process is mind-blowing to watch — how she creates such intricate designs on such a small and fragile surface. In addition, she’s telling an important and historic story at the same time. These are keepsakes and family heirloom works.
      • Leslie Rowland’s mixed media works are organic and so reflective of nature and the natural environment — one has to step back and seriously reflect on our connections to our surroundings.
      • Deanna Chilian is a friend and former neighbor. What I love about her abstract [painting] is its organization, use of color and space that creates a sense of excitement and reflection.
      • Christie Calaycay’s jewelry are handcrafted masterpieces. They’re intricate and delicate, yet strong and durable. She’s able to personalize each piece for a customer, making it a unique and precious work to have.
      • Editor’s note: All four creators are based in the River Arts District, and work by Kulish, Chilian and Calaycay may be viewed in the “In Solidarity” exhibition through April at the Pink Dog Gallery and online. Kulish, who is leading in-person workshops for four people or fewer this spring, says that the exhibition has thus far raised $7,670 for such nonprofits as Black Lives Matter.

Heather Maloy, Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance artistic director:

      • Husband-and-wife team Gavin Stewart and Vanessa Owen are the remarkably talented dancers and choreographers behind
        Heather Maloy

        Stewart/Owen Dance. All of their work is strong, but they achieved something truly unique in November with “Still Life.” This creative walk-through dance experience utilized the entirety of the new Wortham Center for the Performing Arts and the talents of local dancers in a way that felt extremely intimate while remaining distanced and safe. You were closer to the dancers than you would be in a traditional theater setting, pulling you into their world in a more comprehensive way, with just enough separation to remind you that it was still November 2020. The result was both heart-wrenching and inspirational — a shining light in a dark tunnel proving once again that the creative spirit can, and will, prevail. Gavin and Vanessa are currently working on multiple new works and figuring out when and where to produce them.

Tony Robles

Tony Robles, Carl Sandburg Home National Historical Site writer-in-residence:

      • Victoria Lyall’s debut novel, Hunt Your Own, is an engaging tale of three women clashing and connecting over ginseng, family and the future of Appalachia. Her work seeks to forge bonds with indigenous communities, showing our common humanity and beauty through story.
      • Such themes also exist in the work of Melanie McGee Bianchi, whose story “Ballad of Cherrystoke” was recently published in the Mississippi Review. She brings a depth to her characters that gives voice to our neighbors and community, articulating what oftentimes goes unsaid.
      • The poetry of Hendersonville native Crystal Cauley brings to life and honors the African American community in the area. She is the founder of the Black History Collective of Henderson County, and her poetry is centered on not forgetting the legacy of African Americans whose spirit inhabits the soil, the air, the trees — the heart of the community.

Jessica Johnson, The Magnetic Theatre executive director:

Jessica Johnson
      • Actor Aaron Ybarra has the most positive, enthusiastic energy of anyone I’ve encountered. He loves performing, and you can feel his passion whenever you work with him or watch him on stage. He is always ready to lend a hand, provide words of encouragement or try something new during a rehearsal process. As a director, I appreciate working with Aaron, who genuinely listens to feedback and isn’t afraid to offer his own thoughts or ask questions.
      • Ana-Alicia Carroll is a gift to our local theater community. Her intuition is usually spot-on, and she can adapt to a wide range of characters. Ana has a uniqueness about her that simultaneously makes her performances stay with you while also allowing you to see her play vastly different characters and wonder why you haven’t seen her before. She is always all-in when it comes to developing a character, and it is such a pleasure to watch her perform.
      • Neither actor has anything specifically scheduled yet, but both are expecting to have projects coming up in the next few months.

Josh Blake, musician, engineer, producer:

  • Christie Lenée just moved here — a world-class fingerpicking guitar player with a virtuosic style.  She’s won several international awards for her skills and is eager to connect with the folks in her new hometown.

    Josh Blake
  • Another inspiring local artist is Virtuous. She’s an insanely talented MC and vocalist who is always putting out content laced with positivity and personality. She’s a voice the world needs right now.
  • There’s also a killer new duo bubbling called Tü Koyote, featuring two of our city’s most gifted drummers, Ted Marks and Jaze Uries. Jaze takes a break from behind the kit for this pop duo, playing the surprisingly fitting role of lead vocalist — a brilliant revelation. Ted is a multitalented producer who’s obviously paying close attention to crafting the infectious grooves of this combo.
  • Last, keep your eyes out for Chilltonic, a trio fronted by Teso McDonald, who cut his teeth playing the streets of Asheville. You may have caught them at the beginning of the pandemic, rolling through downtown jamming on a flatbed truck, and I hope we get to see them doing it some more as the cold weather lifts. Their presence on the streets would be a much-needed spark to set our city’s music scene back into action for the spring and summer seasons.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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