Nicole Williams discovering her artistic side with Albany Area Arts Council

Dec 08, 2014

By Carlton Fletcher, Albany Herald

ALBANY — There’s a major difference in the 70 or so hours a week Nicole Williams puts in now as executive director of the Albany Area Arts Council and the 70 hours-plus a week she worked at her job in the private mental health industry.

“Now, I’m in charge of those hours,” Williams, who has served as head of the local arts council since May 1, said. “I put in a lot of hours here, but not because I have to. It’s because I want to.”

Teaming with the Albany Recreation and Parks Department, Williams will reach out to the area’s “under-served 25- to 45-year-old-with-children demographic” Saturday at the council-sponsored “holiday pARTy,” which is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arts Council’s 215 N. Jackson St. offices.

The event, which will give kids an opportunity to create their own arts and crafts and showcase art by Albany elementary students, is free and open to the public.

“Kids are the focus this time of the year,” Williams, a native of Blakely, said. “We thought this was the perfect time, and this is the perfect event, to get kids in our door. We want them to have a good time and also see that art is not inaccessible. It’s also perfect because the artwork hanging in our gallery space was created by Albany elementary school students. Maybe they’ll see some of their own artwork or the artwork of their friends on display.

“The idea is to make sure they get it.”

Williams might, at first glance, seem an odd choice to fill the vacant Arts Council position. After a twisting, turning academic career that started at Andrew College, detoured through Georgia Southwestern State University and ended with a degree in psychology from Albany State University, she started work at a doctor’s office in the private mental health sector.

“I planned to get an advanced degree, but grad school is difficult to get into,” Williams said. “I took a job to bolster my resume, but it turns out I fell in love with the people.”

Even though her career path was perhaps diametrically opposite of the art world, Williams was not without influence in that direction. From a college roommate who was an art major to a husband — Charles Williams — who teaches art at Albany State, she’s never been completely removed from that world.

“I’ve always kind of gravitated to the arts,” she says. “I love to cook, love to decorate and love fashion design. Those are the kinds of things that lend themselves to the world of art. Actually, because my interests are so varied, I think it gives me a broader appreciation of different art forms.

“There are members of (the Arts Council) board who are artists, and their focus is somewhat of a single-track. Since I love all kinds of visual arts, I have more of a free rein. I’m much more open, I think.”

After a “scary first six months or so” in which she had “no real end goal” laid out by the council board, Williams has gradually begun to lay the groundwork that will result in a long-range plan.

“Even now, I don’t really have a detailed plan,” she said. “I’m hoping one will present itself. I do know that I’d like very much for us to focus on art education. I think it’s important that we have a place where local artists can show and sell their art, but I’d like to see the Arts Council build local interest by holding classes.”

Williams is also working to rebuild the relationships that once existed among the Arts Council’s seven member organizations: the Thronateeska Heritage Museum, Albany Museum of Art, Albany Symphony Orchestra, Theatre Albany, Albany Civil Rights Institute, Albany Chorale and Georgia Artist Guild-Albany.

“A little history lesson,” Williams said. “The Arts Council was formed as a receiver of federal dollars for member arts organizations. The money would come in in a lump sum, and the Arts Council would distribute it based on requests and keep a small amount of it for operating expenses. Which was fine until the (federal) money ran out.

“The various agencies started raising their own funds, but to maintain the original purpose of the Arts Council, they were asked to hold off on their own fund raising efforts for one month a year to raise funds collectively. The Arts Council would redistribute those funds. Frankly, it was a massive endeavor with little payoff. I’m not talking bad about anyone’s plan because I’m sure a lot of thought went into it. But it just didn’t work and that plan just dried up.”

Williams says part of her early work with the Arts Council has been to rekindle the relationships among those disparate members so that they might share resources and continue to thrive.

“It’s tough sometimes because you have so many different ideas coming from so many different directions,” she said. “Personally, I like the idea of inclusion, of engagement. I certainly appreciate patrons who are able and willing to make the kind of large donations that can sustain programs, but frankly I’d rather see programs geared to 1,000 people who are willing to give $5 each than just 20 or 30 people who give $500 to $1,000 or more.

“I just can’t see catering everything you do to a select group at the expense of larger-scale engagement.”

As she talks about the new-ish job she’s taken to so well, it’s easy enough to detect the passion Williams has for the position.

“I’m finally having fun,” she says. “It was terrifying at first, everything was so new to me and the board did not make any big demands or present any kind of plan or agenda for me to follow. But I’m getting there. I think I felt it for the first time when we hosted the (annual) college art show recently. I’d helped my husband with it since it first started, but every year it was like pulling teeth to get people to participate. He’d hang all the work, scramble to find contributing artists. This year, though, because we generated relationships with art professors at Darton and Valdosta State, it was more of a collaborative thing. It was more fun.

“I look at where I am now in this position, and I’m getting pretty comfortable with the job. I could have stayed where I was, continued to work with people I love at a job I was good at. But here, there are new challenges every day. I like that. I really like that.”


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