By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Below the surface of the Northern Shenandoah Valley is a wellspring of artistic talent just waiting to gush forth.
Though the Shenandoah Arts Council has for many years been a conduit for bringing artistic recognition to the Winchester area, it has recently expanded upon its base of fine arts programs, hoping to serve a greater number in the community. Its plan is to include visual and literary arts as well.
"We rewrote our mission statement recently," says Tracy Marlatt, executive director of the council. Traditionally the arts council was in support of all arts, but it had been focusing more attention on fine arts with little room in its schedule for other artistic expression, such as music and writing.
The new mission statement says: "The Shenandoah Arts Council is a non-profit arts organization serving the diverse communities of Winchester, Frederick County and the Shenandoah Valley by cultivating the visual, performing, and literary arts through promotion, instruction, and exhibition."
The first in a series of new additions to the council's schedule of events is A Taste of Poetry, two readings being held in collaboration with The Sow's Ear Poetry Review. The poetry readings will kick off a sort of renaissance within the council this summer.
The first reading, Poems and Chocolate, will be held on July 31; the second, Poems and Wine, on Aug. 28. Both will be held at 7 p.m. at the Shenandoah Arts Council, 811 S. Loudoun St. in Winchester. The events are free, though donations will be accepted.
When Kristin Zimet, editor and founding member of The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, and managing editor Robert Lesman proposed coordinating with the arts council on the poetry readings, Marlatt jumped at the idea.
"We felt it was important ... to also focus on performing and literary arts," Marlatt says.
Zimet and Lesman hope the readings will open doors for the poetry community, which they say often goes unnoticed in the general public's day-to-day lives.
"Our hope is to broaden the audience that realizes that poetry is delicious," Zimet says.
Shenandoah Fine Chocolates of Creekside in Winchester and Julie's Catering will provide a tasting of chocolate treats for the poetry event on July 31, Zimet says.
"It is our hope that people will come for the chocolate and the wine and stay for the joy of the words ... discover an appetite for words, a hunger for words," she says.
She also hopes to bring in new poets and promote the idea that writing poetry is supposed to be fun.
"Most people come to poetry because they're made to read it in school and they think of it as a kind of medicine," says Zimet. People turn to it for sustenance, she says, but the idea is really to have a good time.
"It can give them delight and nourishment in all parts of their lives," she says.
The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, which sponsors poetry competitions throughout the year and accepts submissions from anyone around the world, has long promoted the cooperation of various artistic expressions.
"We use art on every page spread, not as illustrations but as an equal partner to the poems," Zimet says. In a special feature called Crossovers, "an artist marries words to another medium," she says. Cartoonists, landscape photographers and sculptors also lend their talents to the magazine.
The magazine's focus is on "poems that get through and transform you," she says.
"I think the poems in the Sow's Ear are not obscure, they're accessible," says Lesman. The magazine "reflects the taste" of the readers, he says.
The council and the Sow's Ear hope to promote the idea that art is for everyone -- for those who produce it and also for those who enjoy it.
"I hope that the people who come to this event will be not only people who are already writing poetry," but also "[people] for whom this is a new experience," Zimet says.
She references a poetry reading she attended recently in Virginia Beach, which drew a broad spectrum of interest. She says she met "people in the audience who had never been to a poetry [venue] in their life."
The events will offer something different for those who attend, but also will benefit those participating.
"They're local poets widely published but not widely heard in their own backyard," Zimet says.
Steve Scafidi, of Summit Point, W.Va., and Wendell Hawken, of Boyce, will read on July 31; Judy Halebsky, of Falls Church, and Mark DeFoe, of West Virginia, will read on Aug. 28.
"They're deeply embedded in the local community," says Zimet.
A marriage of various art forms will also play out on the walls of the arts council's gallery, which, during July and August, will display the artwork of Rhonda Smith.
"Travel with a Talisman," will be on display through Aug. 28, Marlatt says. The closing reception for the exhibit will be on Aug. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m. and will include coffee and crepes from Sonoma Coffee Cafe in Winchester.
For more information, call the council office at 667-5166.