Leslie Raimond and John Schratwieser on Transition and Saving the Fine Arts Building

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There will be a very important transition taking place in Chestertown at the stroke of midnight or thereabouts on December 31, 2017. A significant changing of the guards at the Kent County Arts Council will happen when Director Leslie Prince Raimond will formally step down and turn the organization over to her successor, John Schratwieser.

If this were just a time to celebrate Leslie’s achievements during her tenure in promoting the arts, it would be reason alone to justify a major community celebration of gratitude. But, in many ways, that is only half the story.

For it was Leslie, and her late husband, Vince, that were directly responsible for the creation of the Kent County Arts Council thirty-five years ago. And during their time at the wheel, this county saw an explosion of art creation and performance in the visual arts, community theater, music, poetry, dance, and creative writing. It was the combined forces of the Raimond family that have has lead to the region to an unprecedented level of maturity in arts programming to make it one of the Mid-Atlantic’s “go-to” rural arts scenes.

So it was for that very reason that the Spy was all the more eager to talk to Leslie and John about this important transition, and just as importantly, how they plan to use it as an opportunity to bring back the Fine Arts Building on Spring Street as a hub for the arts in Kent County and create studio space for local and visiting artists.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the Kent County Arts Council please go here.

Mid-Shore Culture: Revisiting the President’s Mother with Martha Sexton

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Washington College’s Patrick Henry Writing Fellow, Martha Sexton, has built a remarkable career in bringing to light the real lives of this country’s most misunderstood women throughout her distinguished scholarship. With books as diverse as Little Women author Louisa May Alcott to the Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, Sexton has used her unique skills to uncover far more realistic, more nuanced, and perhaps a more sympathetic understanding of their motives and character.

During this special week that combines Presidents’ Day, George Washington’s Birthday, and, of course, Washington College’s special convocation celebrating its namesake, it seemed appropriate for the Spy to catch up with Martha, who recently authored a forthcoming biography of the first president’s mother, Mary Bell Washington.

In The Widow Washington, Sexton pushes back on the sometimes dismissive or derogatory treatment of Mary Washington by many famed biographers of Washington as well as brings to light the simple hard realities that faced elderly widows in the 18th Century.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the College’s C.V. Starr Center Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship please go here.

Mid-Shore Arts: The Church Hill Theatre at 35 Years Old with Nina Sharp

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A quick check of Wikipedia shows a very limited response to the query term, “Church Hill, Maryland.” In fact, with the exception of a summary of the 2010 census, which shows that about 500 people live in the town, and that Church Hill has four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s not much there.

But it does have one thing that very few places have, and that’s the beloved and successful Church Hill Theatre (CHT).

Built in the 1920s as the town’s community center, the building became the home of the Church Hill Theatre in 1982, some thirty-five years ago. That was reason enough for the Spy to want to know more about the CHT. It seemed rather remarkable that a community theatre company could survive that long in a town of 500 which rests some fifteen miles from the next town over.

But in talking to the Theatre’s executive manager Nina Sharp the other day, it turns out the CHT is not only surviving but actually thriving. With five major theatre productions a year, two youth educational programs, as well as ongoing partnerships with Chesapeake College, Gunston School, and the Home Educators of the Eastern Shore, Church Hill is very much alive and well.

That’s not to say CHT doesn’t have its challenges with owning a building that needs a great deal of love and care, but as Nina suggests in our chat, all signs look good for another thirty five years.

This video is approximately minutes in length. For more information about the Church Hill Theatre, please go here.

Mid-Shore Arts: Ben Simons Takes the Helm at the Academy Art Museum

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For Ben Simons, the road to the Eastern Shore and his appointment as the new director of the Academy Art Museum is almost a lesson in geography. Raised by diplomats who served in a variety of iron curtain countries in the 1980s, including places like Romania, Russia, and Poland, it was through this somewhat exotic childhood that Ben first connected with museums and the unique role those institutions play in culture. But it would turn out to be the island of Nantucket where Simons first embraced the world of museum management as a career.

For close to fifteen years, Ben and his wife, the artist Alison Cooley, made that remote community off the shores of Massachusetts their home which allowed them both to pursue their real interests. While Alison focused on her art, Ben became the chief curator and senior management member of Nantucket Historical Association’s highly regarded Whaling Museum. And it was at this institution that he began to connect the dots between literature, history, art, and education.

In the Spy’s first interview with Ben, he talks about his background, his passion for art, and some of the new initiatives he’s already started at the Academy, including doubling down on its educational programs, the redesign of the AAM website, reinstituting the very popular Craft Show this fall, and finally preparing for the Museum’s 60th birthday in 2018. Not bad for four months on the job.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here

Mid-Shore Culture: The Life and Times of Stymie with Lehr Jackson

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While Mid-Shore resident Lehr Jackson has made himself a remarkable career in urban development, particularly with his unique partnership with urban planner James Rouse in the 1970s and 1980s, those who know him best realize that his greatest gift might be that of storyteller.

From chronicling his Vietnam years, to his pioneering work with Rouse on Faneuil Hall in Boston, or, most recently, his push to tell the tale of Stymie, a remarkable race horse of the 1940s, Lehr seems to have an uncanny ability to sniff out some really remarkable American stories.

In this case, it is the remarkable journey of a racehorse that was all but given up on in the early 1940s. Stymie, groomed for success on King Ranch in Texas, failed to show promise after his first two years of racing and was purchased by the now legendary Maryland horse trainer Hirsch Jacobs, for $1,500 and by the time he retired from the horse track at the end of the 19540s, his career winnings came close to $1 million, an unprecedented amount of money for the time.

In Lehr’s third interview with the Spy, he talks about Jacobs, Stymie, and the amazingly counter-intuitive way in which this amazing Maryland horse was trained to finish 131 lifetime starts with Stymie winning in 35 races, placed in 33, and showed in 28.

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Mid-Shore Arts: Carla Massoni’s “Little Demons” in Chestertown

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Carla Massoni is the first to credit her friend and artist Kenneth Schiano for the title of a new art show at Massoni’s gallery on High Street in Chestertown starting this month called “Little Demons.” It was Ken’s way of describing those nagging and relentless self-reminders coming from within that he needs to push harder with his art.  

And while that might sound like rather negative, Schiano was using the term with its original Greek meaning in mind, which is closer to divine inspiration or a form of happiness rather than a fallen angel. In Ken’s world, his demons motivate him to produce more challenging art. 

Carla saw that these demons could be seen with a number of artists she has worked with at certain points in their careers, and she therefore called upon Schiano and gallery artists Karen Hubacher, Claire McArdle, Zemma Mastin White, Leigh Wen, Katherine K. Allen, Anne Leighton Massoni and Deborah Weiss to be part of this winter show.  She also recruited other artists she has admired to participate like the multi-talented Joe Karlik,  Raphael Sassi and Sara Bakken.

The Spy spoke to Carla at her gallery a few days ago to get a better sense how constructive “Little Demons” in the process of creating art.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about “Little Demons” please go here

 

Mid-Shore Public Affairs: Kent Center’s Board President Randy Cooper Looks Forward

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Randy Cooper is perhaps best known for the highly successful renovation of the Radcliffe Mill just north of town for the new home of Radcliffe Corporate Services, which he founded in 1987, but it’s clear from his recent interview the Spy that he’s not yet done with building things.

After a long career in accounting, including top positions with Arthur Andersen & Company, Bank of America, and the Mellon Bank, and the success of Radcliffe, Randy’s new challenge comes with his appointment as president of the board of Kent Center, Inc, Kent County’s highly respected organization serving the region’s needs to help and support adults with developmental disabilities.

In his Spy interview, Randy talks about the extraordinary contributions Kent Center has made to help close to seventy clients and their families with a staff of over one hundred staff, as well as increasing the number of those living independently. He also talks about the unique challenge that parents have to ensure their adult children are taken care of after they pass away.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Kent Center, please go here

Mid-Shore Arts: WC’s Rose O’Neill Literary House with Director James Allen Hall

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Over the last two decades, Washington College has invested heavily into three major institutions on their campus. The first two of these so-called “Centers for Excellence,” are the highly respected C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the equally impressive Center for Environment & Society. Both have built themselves into exceptionally vital parts of campus life as well as the entire Mid-Shore..

The third, the Rose O’Neill Literary House, is perhaps the least known of the triplets, but certainly is the oldest with over forty years of student programs, literary publications and a long list of some of the best known names in the world of arts and letter making campus visits, including the likes of Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg and poet Billy Collins.

And while the “Lit House” program does not equal its WC peers in endowment support and operating budgets, it makes up for it with inspired leadership. Starting with the program’s founder Bob Day in 1970 and now under the stewardship of professor and poet James Allen Hall, the College is one of small handful of writing centers in the country that has distinguished itself for its diversity and student participation.

The Spy caught up with James last month to talk about the art and relevance of writing as well as the often underestimated value of being a good writer as college graduates seek their first jobs. The Chestertown resident also talks about his own aspirations for the Lit House and his hope there can be more town-gown programming and outreach.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. Additional video was provided by Washington College. For more information about the Rose O’Neill Literary House, please go here.

Mid-Shore Arts: Big Time Lawyer Ron Liebman Becomes Legal Thriller Bestseller

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For several decades now, the book publishing world has embraced and thrived with the addition of the so-called,” legal thriller” among its many offerings. From Scott Turow to John Grisham, this subgenre of crime fiction has soared in popularity with the reading public as writers use the law in the same way as police work has done in the solving mysteries.

Now with five books behind him, the former lawyer and big-time prosecutor of such high profile politicians such as Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandell, Ron Liebman is beginning to be recognized as one of the new masters of this kind of fiction. The retired Patton Boggs attorney has attracted the attention of some the country’s most prestigious publishing houses like Simon & Schuster and Random House with his remarkable tales of legal intrigue, including his latest book entitled Big Law.

The Spy asked the Mid-Shore resident to talk about his new book as well as his own experience as a lawyer at one of the country’s largest and most successful law firms.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Big Law is available at local bookstores and on Amazon here.
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