(Executive Director at Visual Art Exchange, Commissioner of Raleigh Arts Commission, artist)
Since it is First Friday, it seemed appropriate that today’s post focus on Raleigh’s art scene, and I can not name one person who has done more for the Raleigh arts community than Sarah Powers.
Her leadership helped transform the Visual Art Exchange (VAE) into the thriving community of “artists for artists” that it is today. This includes their expansion into their Martin Street space that now houses three gallery rooms and a storefront for artists.
She has served as the chair of the Raleigh Arts Commission for over four years.
And she has taken over running SPARKcon, Raleigh’s largest creative arts festival, and did so one year with a broken foot. I still remember sleep-deprived Sarah jetting around Fayetteville Street on a scooter as she smiled and chatted with people.
She’s an incredibly talented and accomplished artist herself.
But most importantly, Sarah has helped better the lives of thousands of artists in Raleigh and the Triangle, including myself.
Whether it is the art as a business workshops held at VAE, the work she has done to expand and grow SPARKcon, her work at the Raleigh Arts Commission or simply her willingness to help and connect artists of all shapes and sizes, Sarah Powers has played a huge part in the success of Raleigh’s art scene.
I first met Sarah at the old VAE location in City Market in the mid-2000s. I stumbled into the gallery, like many did, on my first trip around downtown for First Friday. I didn’t know where I was or really what First Friday was all about, but I knew that galleries were looking to open their doors to the community and make exhibits more accessible. That was enough to get me to give it a shot.
But what was so unique about VAE is that it was approachable. The art on the walls was all of types and skills levels, including work by local kids organizations. Sarah and team were all super friendly, initiated conversations with anyone they could and basically defied all of the art gallery stereotypes. They were just like me, like you or anyone that walked in the door. They weren’t there to sell you anything. They simply wanted to make you feel welcome and made sure you had a good experience.
It was that night that I learned more about VAE’s mission. I was amazed that not only was it a great space, but the art was actually juried shows of non-professional and professional artists alike. It wasn’t exclusive. They held open submissions and encouraged anyone and everyone to participate.
It had been years since I had been serious about art, but I had recently started painting again and I had some recent film photography that I was pretty confident with, so I submitted for an upcoming show and as luck would have it, one of my photos was selected. I would go on to submit and exhibit and a number of future shows, but all as a result of that first time randomly stumbling into the gallery.
I’m sure there are hundreds of people just like me with similar stories because Sarah and the team work tirelessly to create events to help emerging artists. From graffiti, to fine art. From animation to theatrical pieces. From spoken word to bands. Their events and shows are designed to welcome people of all walks and interests.
And it is through those shows that I have got to know Sarah Powers. I had the pleasure working closely with her on a previous SPARKcon and she has helped connect and advise me on some side projects in the past.
She simply is an incredible person.
She has a relentless work ethic.
And she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
She knows everyone and never hesitates to use those connections to help people or make things happen. And that’s why so many people can point to Sarah as having been instrumental in their success in some way or another.
So, if you have ever been out to a First Friday, walked around Fayetteville Street during SPARKcon or been fortunate enough to exhibit work at one of Raleigh’s numerous galleries, you probably have Sarah Powers to thank for that.
I know I personally have a number of close friends that I would have never met if not directly for Sarah and her events.
I am truly inspired by everything Sarah has done, and continues to do, for our city and our arts community.
But stop reading this and go see Sarah and all the other fine artists at First Friday tonight.