Most locals on the beach know the Dare County Arts Council. The nonprofit organization’s primary focus is to spread all disciplines of the arts to residents and visitors, alike. From the stuff that hangs on walls, to poetry and performance art. It also promotes the music heard far and wide on this lovely island.
The council’s executive director and fearless leader since 2012 is Chris Sawin. Born and raised on the Outer Banks, he was educated at Carleton College in Minnesota and Full Sail University in Florida, a school geared toward careers in entertainment, arts, media and technology. He’s worked in the entertainment industry for some of the biggest names in the business: The Walt Disney Co., Time Warner Inc. (now WarnerMedia) and Atlantic Records. Locally and regionally, he has assisted several music startups, such as Mammoth Records, Batanga.com and Zenph Sound Innovations.
Sawin’s time at the Dare County Arts Council has allowed him to give back to his community by implementing programs such as the Outer Banks Veterans Writing Project and The Power of Art, an arts education program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
He understood the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on working musicians, a large segment of the Outer Banks arts community. He recognized that with the shutting of restaurants and other venues many performers would be out gigs at the most inopportune time, the summer season. These are the months when musicians garner most of their annual income. It’s been devastating to some who rely solely on performing live.
So, in conjunction with his excellent staff and a host of local and regional media partners, the arts council began “The Courthouse Sessions.” Leveraging its large Facebook following, the council has provided a platform for our local musicians to gain exposure since early May.
The council promotes the performance and allows the musicians to live stream directly from its Facebook page to its followers, as well as the general public. Staff members comment and encourage donations directly to the performing artist.
My performance for the Courthouse Sessions on May 31 was the first time I’d played since March 13. It was nerve-racking and frightening, but most of all, welcome.
Sawin is also an excellent musician in his own right. I recently posed my queries to him regarding the effects of the coronavirus on what is already a very, very full plate.
What has been the hardest part of dealing with the pandemic?
For me, it’s been not playing. I play fairly regularly with four groups and I miss them all.
What have you been doing during the shutdown?
Mostly I’ve been working and staying home with my family. At the Dare County Arts Council, we’ve been focused on how to help artists and performers make money during the lockdown.
Have you started or completed any projects?
None personally, but definitely at work. Dare Digital Arts is a new project to bring a lot of new online commercial opportunities to our family of artists.
What have you missed the most?
Meetings at local coffee shops.
What concerns you going ahead?
That this will last for two to three years.
Is there any music that has helped you get through this? Or, what have you been listening to?
Duke Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige.”
What makes you smile or laugh?
Who or what keeps you centered?
Karen, my wife.
What has encouraged you during the pandemic?
People all working together to flatten the curve.
What has discouraged you during the pandemic?
The contagiousness of this particular virus.
What has surprised you the most?
March Madness cancelled. Ugh. Didn’t see that coming.
How will you keep yourself safe when work resumes? Is that solely your responsibility?
We have a strict, well-planned safety protocol at work. Just have to follow the steps religiously to minimize the risk.
Are there any new insights you’ve gained or new activities that you’ve engaged in that you’d like to maintain going forward?
I haven’t engaged in it yet, but I hope voting by mail becomes a reality. It’s the 21st century, we are smart enough to come up with a means of selecting our leaders that doesn’t involve waiting in line for hours