Nola Maddox Falcone
When most kids want a treat, they reach for candy or toys—Nola Maddox Falcone wanted art. As a young girl growing up in Augusta, Falcone was an exceptional student who would reward her hours of hard study with a trip to the Greene Street Public Library to lose herself in the art books. In the days before the Morris Museum of Art opened, the bound pages were the only resources available when she wanted to marvel over a painting or learn about an artist. “Art brings such joy and gives you an uplifting spirit; it’s very civilizing. It gives a richness to life,” she says.
Through personal contributions and the Nola Maddox Falcone Charitable Foundation, Falcone has provided significant financial support to the Augusta arts community over the past 25-plus years, ensuring that others can have the opportunity to experience the creative and the cultural.
In the 1960s, Falcone began as an investment trust officer with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York and later joined Lieber & Co. as a portfolio manager and registered representative. Every few years her career gained greater momentum, ultimately leading her to serve as Co-CEO of Evergreen Asset Management Corporation, investment manager of Evergreen Funds and founder of her own firm, NMF Asset Management. Although maintaining a reputation as one of Wall Street’s foremost money managers came with long hours, pressure moments and travel, Falcone never forgot art.
“I spent every hour that I wasn’t working learning the art museums in Manhattan by heart,” she says. And when she heard that the Morris Museum of Art had opened in Augusta, where she has always maintained a home despite her demanding career, she was ecstatic. “When Morris started the museum, I thought, ‘We finally have a museum in Augusta!’ The Morris has always been very close to my heart because I grew up in Augusta. In fact, the ancestors on my mother’s side were among the first settlers in Aiken. My father’s family were early Quakers.”
Every year Falcone makes a donation to the Morris, but her generosity has also extended to other organizations, including the Symphony Orchestra Augusta and Sacred Heart Cultural Center, where she has been named sponsor of the garden festival’s speaker series. In addition, Falcone has allowed various fundraising events to be held in the formal gardens of her antebellum home on Walton Way. Gardening, she adds, is an art form in its own right, with all the creativity and meticulousness required to build flower arrangements and execute conceptual landscaping.
Even though Falcone, now retired, spends a portion of the year at her Florida residence, she still comes home to Augusta, in part to check on the flowers, the specimen camellias and hydrangeas, day lilies and irises that she so prizes. “They’re collector items, which I don’t want to let go,” she says. “Plus, Augusta is embedded in my soul. I love Augusta. It’s a very gracious place and very entertaining.”
Many years ago on a 600-acre farm in South Georgia, a young Roy Lewis could be heard serenading the cows. “My parents always knew where I was because I would always be singing in the middle of the pasture,” laughs Lewis, part-time drama director at the Academy of Richmond County. “I played the smallest billy goat in first-grade elementary in the Three Billy Goats Gruff; I did some high school theater and do a lot of community theater.” With a big personality and imagination, Lewis beholds the world as a stage for the release of expression and the opportunity to tighten human connections.
After 32 years of teaching, Lewis, who has a masters in special education and received an add-on degree in theater from Augusta College, faces new challenges in motivating students to recognize not only the value of the creative muscle but also the importance of face-to-face communication, empathy and introspection. In a cyber era often characterized by instant gratification, uber convenience and haunting superficiality, Lewis fiercely competes against a cultural current in order to make theater matter at some level in the lives of the youth he encounters. “I tell my kids that not all of us are cut out to be on the stage, but let’s talk and see if I can share with you some life skills,” he says. “I try to give them the ability to stand up in front of a group of people and speak confidently. Just communicate. They have such a difficult time [because of] Facebook and texting. As an educator the question is, ‘How do I balance what’s going on in the world today and get those things—like values, ethics, communication—across?’”
In his fervid pursuit to cultivate teen awareness and appreciation of “old-fashioned” interaction and entertainment, Lewis has made big waves in his first year at the Academy of Richmond County, setting sleeping theatrical hearts ablaze and doubling (75 to 150) student enrollment in the drama program. With Lewis at the helm, the Richmond Academy Players won a regional theater competition, going on to place third in the state for that performance; won a regional literary competition; and finished the season with their first musical, Once on This Island. “There’s been lots of growing and experiencing,” says Lewis. “I really push them to find their passion—what makes you feel something and how do you evaluate that? How does that fit into your world?”
Active in almost every theater organization in Augusta and serving as treasurer for the Georgia Theatre Conference state board, Lewis is certainly a prime example of what it means to pursue what you love and make it a reality. Recently he has appeared in Hairspray and La Cage aux Folles with
the Augusta Players, and he played President Smith in Le Chat Noir’s production of November. “I like a good mix of it all. I love anything from theater of the absurd to musicals to dark, frivolous theater,” he says. “What you put into life is what you get out of life. You gotta find the joy in what
Arts Professional Award
When Alan MacTaggart is in, he’s all in. For 37 of the 40 years he’s been an academic professor of art, MacTaggart has held leadership positions that take him outside the classrooms, textbooks and studios and into the community, where art’s transformative effect is wondrously palpable. “There are always interesting projects that are worthy of attention and that help make the community a better place,” says the professor of art and chair of the department of art at Georgia Regents University (GRU). “I’ve always been involved with the community; it’s not just about doing my job [as a professor]. If anyone asks me to do anything to do with art, I’m instinctively going to accept.”
A regular contributor of original work to the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art and a volunteer judge at high school art shows, MacTaggart came to Augusta in 2009 from Greenwood, S.C., where he served as president of the Greater Greenwood Arts Council, and dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and chair of the Division of Fine Arts at Lander University. One of the first things he did when he moved to town for his position at GRU was get on the advisory board of the Greater Augusta Arts Council and the board of the Morris Museum of Art. He quickly discovered that now is “a good time to be in Augusta,” a city he says is on the brink of bigger, better and even more innovative times. “We continue to see new development and improvements in [the Laney Walker area]. We know there is going to be a lot of investment with GRU,” he says. “All that’s going to stimulate this economy. And the mayor has been one of the spark plugs that have really made some things happen.”
MacTaggart praises Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s forward and enlightened thinking and is an excited proponent of his downtown revitalization initiatives, namely the committee formed to interface with Artspace. Based in Minneapolis, Artspace works to assist development projects and community-building activities that serve artists and arts groups across the U.S. When the organization recently visited Augusta, MacTaggart agreed to speak with one of the Artspace representatives. “I helped convince him that this was a good site to spend money,” he says. “We have these great old mills that could be developed into user-friendly spaces—whether places to live or work…or expansion of GRU. We [artists] are quite happy to be in beautiful, old, crusty buildings with history. We don’t have to have new glass and steel.”
As long as art has an opportunity to be presented, the potential for cultural and economic growth is immeasurable. At one point, MacTaggart’s graduating GRU art students had 27 shows going on all over the city. He also has a student finishing a major mural at Friendship Community Center. “I really enjoy seeing people coming up and taking risks, trying to find some kind of personal expression,” says MacTaggart. “Art is an easy, positive thing in a community.”
Who wouldn’t want to be all in?
Dr. Tom Mack
Statues, landmarks, monuments, historic sites—we’ve all passed them at some point in our travels around the CSRA. Sometimes we may stop and give them a cursory review; sometimes we may not even notice, lumping them into the landscape that rolls by as we go about our daily schedules. Through the arts and humanities weekly column that he has written for the Aiken Standard since 1990, Dr. Tom Mack, chair of the USC-Aiken Department of English, shakes up the complacency that often takes root among locals. “It’s an extension of my personal, educational mission. I use the column as a chance to extend the learning experience beyond the classroom,” he says. “I like to illuminate historical, literary and cultural matters. I’m being a teacher; it’s just a different outlet for that role.”
Dr. Mack’s column topics run the gamut and are either ephemeral—marking a particular moment in time, like concerts, dance performances and gallery openings—or related to fixed objects, like historic homes and public works of art. For the regional arts scene, Dr. Mack is your pocket community tour guide and one with an erudite perspective thanks to his extensive background in American literature and its contextual application. Currently chair of the Board of Governors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, Dr. Mack has written more than 100 articles and chapters about American literature and American cultural history. He is also the founding editor of The Oswald Review, the first international refereed journal of undergraduate research in the discipline of English.
In researching subjects that he feels would make an impact on his faithful readers, Dr. Mack has encountered many unique people, artists and places along the way who have especially attracted his personal interest. One of his favorite figures to learn about has been African American novelist Frank Yerby (1916-1991), who Dr. Mack describes as one of the most important writers to come out of Augusta. “There was talk about tearing down the Frank Yerby house and I wrote a couple of columns that I think stirred up interest in preserving it,” he says. “I know my column made it into the hands of the developer [who was going to demolish the house] and readers sent letters to the Paine College administration. The house was moved and is now on the Paine College campus...I’m proud to make a positive difference.”
That the power of the press can spark a mass call to action is especially fulfilling for Dr. Mack. Words are not just words but the building blocks to change, whether it’s something that garners public attention or a small, quiet “aha!” moment in the heart of a single reader. “When I look back, I am sometimes amazed by how long I’ve maintained this level of activity,” he says. “But I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I’ve certainly enjoyed meeting over the years countless engaged and engaging members of the arts community who add so much to the quality of life in our city and surrounding area.” u
A piano is mellifluous, but an organ is majestic. When he was little, Keith Shafer’s mother had dreams of her son becoming a concert pianist. After all he was a prodigy, starting lessons at 5 years old and then training under music professors at Connecticut College and the University of Connecticut until he was playing piano preludes in church at age 10. But Shafer was interested in something else, a different instrument that he says he couldn’t live without. “The concept of the organ is spooky to some people, but I don’t relate to that,” says Shafer, now in his 30th year as director of music/organist for Saint Paul’s Church. “To me, they [organs] are wonderful. They have the power of a full symphony orchestra in a worship space. They are huge instruments, so as a kid it was irresistible.”
Shafer was educated at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Through dedication, passion and astounding natural ability honed from a young age, he received his degree in organ performance and was a finalist in all of the major, national organ playing competitions. Although he was appearing in concert throughout the country, Shafer began to sense a greater calling, one that would require him to use his musical talents in a different way and explore a repertoire steeped in rich tradition and spiritual meaning.
“I would describe myself as a church musician and have used all that [training] for the church as opposed to a university position or concert stage,” says Shafer. “I’ve always enjoyed church. I like the choirs, the hymns; I like all the organ music based on hymns; I love the ceremony.” But what motivates him more than anything is the reaction from the people who receive the music as an integral part of their journey in faith. He recalls one woman who hadn’t been to church in a while and approached him afterwards to let him know how the service changed her life. “She came back an
d kept coming,” says Shafer. “When you change a life, that’s remarkable. It doesn’t take many to make you feel like what you’re doing is worthwhile.”
In addition to preparing services structured around themes and augmented by hymns that the congregation recognizes and treasures, Shafer is the artist director and founder of the Riverwalk Series, which puts on the annual 4th of July concert at Saint Paul’s and the wildly popular Tuesday’s Music Live, a fall/spring luncheon concert series entering its 26th season. A commendable contributor to the Augusta arts community at large, he has taught organ students, led workshops and has accompanied the Augusta Opera, the Augusta Choral Society and the Augusta Chorale. “The level of support here and the facilities that I have to use are phenomenal,” Shafer stresses. “There are many people who want culture as part of life in the CSRA. Augusta is a wonderful place for music.”
Liz Anne Johnson
After retiring as a school psychologist in 2005, Liz Anne Johnson experienced a liberating shift in perspective. “My job was so all consuming. I felt like blinders had been taken off and this whole, big world opened before me,” she says. Initially, Johnson picked three non-profits that she could volunteer with on a weekly basis, but soon that list multiplied, spanning children’s, arts and environmental groups. Although she says she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body, Johnson is highly attuned to the role art plays in maintaining a positive and colorful quality of life in the community. “I feel that people who are talented should be able to make a living at their art. I have so much respect for people who can think outside of the box.”
Out of all the arts, Johnson reserves a special place for music. “The overriding art form for me is music and what it does for the heart and soul,” she says. “I just find that it’s such a mood lifter and sweetener to daily life.” In addition, her husband sings with the Augusta Choral Society (ACS), a hobby she says brings him so much joy it has inspired her to focus a significant amount of her volunteer efforts toward that organization.
Serving as president of the Friends of the Augusta Choral Society, she has helped grow the group to 120 members who volunteer with and support all ACS projects, concerts and fundraisers. With a warm and engaging personality, Johnson has a knack for building relationships between people and organizations, understanding that the collective energy of people is what ignites real change or preserves a cause. Recently, Johnson has worked tirelessly—hanging posters, selling advertisements for the program and sending email blasts—on the fifth annual ACS golf tournament, a heavyweight fundraising event that she says really helps keep the group in the black.
In addition to her steady commitment to the ACS, Johnson is also a Tuesday’s Music Live board member, an usher during Storyland Theatre’s performances and a Sacred Heart Guild member and garden festival volunteer. She has also increased her work with the Friends of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts, helping to raise money (most recently for a gently-used piano) to support the activities of an after-school program for disadvantaged students. “They [the Jessye Norman School] are really grooming good citizens,” Johnson says.
While the arts are certainly a worthy and frequent recipient of her time, Johnson is passionate about addressing other civic needs and social issues, such as feeding the hungry and raising awareness about mental health and unplanned teen pregnancies. Sensitive to environmental preservation, Johnson is on the Sierra Club executive committee and an on-call volunteer for projects, trail maintenance and nature hikes at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. When Johnson’s “blinders” came off after retirement and time suddenly became limitless, she could’ve allocated all of it for personal pleasure. Instead, she has enthusiastically used so much of it to identify and meet needs in Augusta. Truly a volunteer extraordinaire.