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Art Accolades

Thomas Lyles

Thomas Lyles

photography by Steve Bracci

President’s Award | Sandra Self
Executive Director
Symphony Orchestra Augusta

Sandra Self

With a quirky sense of humor and high standards, Sandra Self led the Symphony Orchestra Augusta for 13 seasons. “I’m known as Lucy [from Peanuts] of the arts organization world,” she laughs. “I think everything should be five cents.” Her wit has carried her through the stresses of balancing a tight budget while expanding the numerous ways in which the Symphony Orchestra Augusta reaches its fingers into the CSRA. With an organization in which change is continual, it’s a challenge to manage and to keep it all moving forward in the same direction.

But her belief in the music and bringing it to the people has given her mission momentum. “I’ve always thought the symphony is for everyone. I’ve always fought to dispel that elitism associated with the symphony,” she says, confident in the music’s magic and the changes it can forge in individuals and entire communities. “Appreciating music enriches the human soul; it feeds the human soul.”

Self has witnessed it touch lives in unexpected ways. While serving as the executive director of the Greater Lansing Symphony in Michigan, prior to coming to Augusta by way of Savannah, she accompanied the brass quartet to a performance for the residents of a nursing home. When the quartet reached full swing, a woman in a wheelchair screamed, “Turn it off! Turn it off! Turn it off!” and pressed her palms over her ears to block the sound. Nurses quickly wheeled the resident into the hallway and Self followed at their heels, apologizing. But the delighted staff reassured the distressed symphony executive director, “No, no, this is wonderful! She hasn’t spoken in 10 years.”
Ah, yes, the power of a melody, a phrase, a single chord, one note to make a difference. It makes perfect sense that Self’s drive as executive director has resulted in aggressive growth of the Symphony Orchestra Augusta. Educational and community outreach programs, not just in Augusta, but also in surrounding counties in both Georgia and South Carolina, introduce the joy of music to children and adults and expand the scope of the symphony’s influence. The SOA on the Road program, formerly Music to the People, brings symphony performances to outlying counties. Making Music Connections puts instruments in the hands of and musicians face-to-face with students.

“A vibrant arts community enriches the fabric of life for all its residents.”

In Self’s 13 seasons, Symphony Orchestra Augusta concerts alone have been attended by more than 200,000 patrons. And she is thrilled that her vision for revitalizing the downtown theater district is coming to fruition. The reopening of the Miller Theater, across the street from the Imperial Theater, will give the symphony a permanent home and the CSRA a performing arts destination.

As she greets her upcoming retirement, she reflects, “It’s been good, hard work and very satisfying.” Through the economic downturn and the paradigm shift in symphony management—from  simply presenting offerings and expecting people to come to partnering with the community and listening to what patrons want, from depending primarily on donations to generating a greater percentage of revenue from ticket sales—Sandra Self has kept her humor and her high standards. All the while, she has maintained perspective on what the arts business is really about: “We’ve got to keep giving people this excitement within that will keep them coming back.”

Corporate Sponsor Award | Georgia Health Sciences David Hefner
CEO Georgia Health Sciences Medical Associates and Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center
Executive Vice President, Political Affairs

David Hefner

“I practice art. I don’t think you can ever finish or complete it....”

As the Renaissance period proved, science and art are complexly intertwined, one becoming an avenue of the other and vice versa, as illustrated, to use a pun, by masters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. At Georgia Health Sciences, the merger between science and art, not simply in theory, but in practice, is a natural extension of research, education and healing. Its open palm stretches out to all who pass through the campus: students, faculty, staff, patients, visitors and the community.

A stroll through many of the campus’s buildings reveals Georgia Health Sciences’ respect for the profound power of the visual arts. The Cancer Center alone displays more than 100 unique pieces of commissioned artwork, from sculptures to paintings, by regional artists. Paul Pearman’s 28-foot mosaic chandelier, “The Four Stages of Higher Learning,” hangs in the atrium of the new College of Dental Medicine building and colorful, student-created murals stimulate the senses in the pediatric intensive care unit of the Children’s Medical Center. Works by non-commissioned artists, professional and amateur, line the walls and halls of the main hospital, outpatient clinics and the Children’s Medical Center.

 The performing arts receive equal recognition and provide equivalent elevation of body, mind and spirit. Musicians—harpists, guitarists, pianists and others—frequently play for patients in the hospital’s public spaces. Noon Arts Concerts in Lee Auditorium, organized by the GHSU Arts Council, feature the various talents of Georgia Health Sciences students, faculty and staff. At any given event, the audience may be entertained by a wide berth of instrumentation, dance, drama and more dreamed up for the stage. “If you ever want to see brilliant people display their artistic talent, come on by,” invites David Hefner, CEO of Georgia Health Sciences Medical Associates and the Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center and executive vice president of clinical affairs.

Hefner remarks on the importance of Georgia Health Sciences’ support of the arts, “Business and the community are inseparable. Whatever benefits one, benefits the other. The more we put forward that kind of partnering between the arts, the community and business, the more successful we will all be.” The kind of partnering to which he refers includes sustaining local artists through commissioned works and opportunities for exhibition, but goes beyond that as well. For the past four years running, Georgia Health Sciences has contributed more than $100,000 a year in direct gift-giving to arts of different kinds. As sponsor of the Westobou Festival, the Symphony Orchestra Augusta Concert Series and Morris Museum of Art’s annual gala, Georgia Health Sciences ensures that the arts, like medicine within the campus’s facilities, are available to and accessible by everyone.

“A vibrant arts community enriches the fabric of life for all of its residents,” says Hefner. He describes the arts atmosphere in Augusta as similar to an airplane’s engine spooling. It’s getting ready to take off at a very rapid pace. Georgia Health Sciences is giving it fuel to burn. “We want to make a difference and contribute,” asserts Hefner. “To be acknowledged for that, we are deeply appreciative.

Individual Artist Award | Thomas Lyles

Thomas Lyles

“There is something in us that needs to express with art and beauty...”

Artist Thomas Lyles’s mother couldn’t keep him in crayons. Melting Crayolas between wax paper, a technique introduced to him by an elementary school teacher, intrigued the young Lyles. “That was the mechanism I had,” he says of his early creative expression. “I was so fascinated with the colors bleeding into each other. The final product was so beautiful.” Never getting the same outcome twice spurred further experimentation.

But art as a profession started long after he ruined his mother’s iron, long after he met his wife, Leesa, in high school, long after he graduated from Coosa Valley Technical College with a degree in welding and joining technology, long after his aspirations of a career in the nuclear industry, long after he began teaching at Augusta Technical College. Growing up in Gadsden, Ala., in a studious family who did not easily relate to his lone bent for artistry, Lyles was well-aware that while his father saw things in black and white, he saw things in a rainbow of oranges, blues, purples, greens, yellows. Despite his pronounced skill at sketching and painting, however, he never labeled himself an artist.

Many a journey remains in a sustained state of suspension, universally and simultaneously a definite probability and an unlikely event, until someone who sees it quite clearly happens along and points out the path. In 1997, Gary Roberts, one of Lyles’s students at the time, presented him with a book on blacksmithing. Lyles consumed the text, excitement growing. “I wondered if I could do with metal what I did with pencil and paint,” he says, and, at last, in his late 30s, he began producing works of metal sculpture.

Still, he applied no distinctive label to himself until a brief, spontaneous interaction changed that. Strolling through the High Museum of Art with Gadsden State art professor Dr. Charles Hill, Lyles expressed his awe at the professor’s considerable comprehension of artists, techniques, styles and movements. Overwhelmed by all he himself did not know, Lyles remarked on the discordance between his ability to do art and his knowledge about art. He wished to be more like Dr. Hill. Dr. Hill turned to Lyles, astounded, and replied, “I wish I was more like you. Then I could do art, instead of teach it.” Suddenly, Lyles saw himself through other people’s eyes and he realized that when they look at him they see an artist, a true artist.

Working in mild steel, stainless steel and copper, Lyles completes commissioned and noncommissioned sculptures at his Studio Blue. He describes his personal style as art nouveau, characterized by sinuous, organic lines and curves. Local pieces produced by Lyles and on public display include “Ribbons of Hope” in the atrium of the Georgia Health Sciences Cancer Center, “Healing Patience” sited at Walton Rehabilitation Center and “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Richmond County Board of Education.
 “I practice art,” he says. “I don’t think that you can ever finish or complete it or gain so much knowledge that you’re done.” In art, as in life, proves Lyles, the best work results when all possibilities totter at the apex, when the final form remains a mystery and when the best path unfolds a little bit at a time.

Arts Professional Award | Director of Music
St. John United Methodist Church

Jamie Garvey

Jamie Garvey, director of music at St. John United Methodist Church since 1980, discovered her calling at an early age. “My mother says I sang before I talked,” she recalls. But it wasn’t until seventh grade when she auditioned for a children’s musical at the community theater in Rocky Mount, N.C., where she grew up, that she was given a glimpse of where that calling might take her. Though she went to the tryout with aspirations of the lead role and stardom, wiser forces prevailed. “They said to me, ‘We need you to be the music director,’” Garvey recalls. “I think I saw pretty quickly that my gifts were in leadership and not on the stage,” she says, though by age 14 she was employed as a professional pianist, paid five dollars per service by the Baptist church her family attended.

As the ’70s unfolded, out of the creases sprang cultural change, reflected in the music of the era. The religious sector responded in kind. A high-schooler at the time, Garvey was invited to direct the church-based Now Generation Singers, a touring choir that strummed guitars and sang Christian folk music. “Every now and then I would get them to sing a traditional piece,” she laughs, remembering the resistance. She was thrilled to creatively organize the group and the performances, having always been drawn to the sound of people singing in harmony.

That creative instinct, whether she’s at work or at home, pervades all that she does. “I’m constantly in my mind creating scenes and picking out background music for my life,” she says. The most consistent background music has, of course, been that made by the Saint John Choir, a group known outwardly for its ministry through song and characterized inwardly by a tight bond and a high level of commitment. Garvey says, “I feel honored to have made [the choir] my life’s work.”
Not only is she an accomplished choir director, however, she is also a fine organist who began taking lessons during her senior year of high school. Guided by her instructor, she attended Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., to continue her romance with the instrument under the tutelage of a nationally prominent organist. All four of her organ teachers from high school through graduate school impacted her career in one compelling way: “The overriding similarity between these four men was that they put musicianship before technique.” They taught her that delving to the heart of the music and the making of it will result in moving the listener in ways that deftly plucking raw notes cannot.

“There’s something in us that needs to express with art and beauty and love and music. It reaches somewhere in the spirit and the brain that isn’t reached otherwise,” Garvey says. As a professional balancing the demands of planning, organizing and implementing musical arrangements for the next public performance, the next Christmas, the next Easter, the next Sunday, she remains ever-present to the transcendent purpose of what she does. With waves of that same bountiful joy and awe she had as a child, she goes to the heart of the music. Only, now, she generously leads the rest of us there, too.


Volunteer Award | Harriet Brantley

“I find a need and follow my instincts and go see what I can do to help.”

It makes perfect sense that, at the tender age of 5, she fell deeply in love with Nelson Eddy, a handsome, accomplished baritone and actor who starred in musical films of the 1930s and ’40s. The daughter of a concert singer, Harriet Brantley was bound to end up in show business too. A powerful yearning to stand within the circumference of the spotlight’s bright glow ignited in her around the age of 10, when her parents took her to a Russian Cossacks performance in Washington, D.C. “When the dancers came out,” she gushes passionately, “I thought I was going to lose my mind. I wanted to dance with them whether I knew how to or not.”

The entertainment industry poised itself to put her name on the marquis. And when she turned 18, she made it happen with a start in water ballet in New York. Shortly thereafter, she toured South America with a water ballet troupe in which she swam, danced and sang in productions. Returning to New York, she began singing in nightclubs where she met her Georgia-born, trumpeter husband who played in the backup band.

But Brantley was on course to make a bigger splash than she could on the stages of New York, than what she had planned for herself in all her dreams. Edward, the suave trumpeter, eventually landed them in Richmond County, where he directed Tubman Junior High’s band for 14 years. Brantley raised their four very gifted children, three sons, all of whom are professional musicians, and an equally talented daughter.

She also became a familiar fixture in the Augusta community as a dedicated volunteer. Since 1998, she’s served as house manager for Storyland Theatre. She founded Augusta’s Sweet Adelines chapter, an international organization of female singers with a mission to advance the art form of barbershop harmony. The Chamber Singers, Church of the Good Shepherd choir, Augusta Choral Society, Imperial Theater and Augusta Players have all benefited from her fierce love of the performing arts.

So many lives have been touched by her as she’s taught swimming lessons through the Red Cross and directed synchronized swimming productions. So many people have been helped by her as she’s ministered to their basic human needs through organizations like the Church of the Good Shepherd Bereavement Team, the Community and World Ministries Commission, Comfort House and the Downtown Cooperative Church Ministry. So many aspects of the community have been enriched by her as she’s served it through the Augusta Visitor’s Center and Sacred Heart Cultural Center.

Though curiosity and magic marked much of her childhood, she also recalls her parents’ efforts to make ends meet. Such a beginning stirred her to reach out to others, whether from the stage or from the heart. “I find a need and follow my instincts and go see what I can do to help,” says Brantley of her tireless efforts to contribute to the world around her. And while years ago she gave up being the star, she remains committed to making sure the show goes on.

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