The Morgan Arts Council
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
Not everyone buys the local movie theater as soon as they move to town, but Jeanne Mozier has her own way of doing things. "I'm opportunistic more than visionary," she says by way of explanation. "We knew we had to do something."
Well, maybe. But some vision was in play. When Jeanne and her husband, Jack Soronen, moved to Berkeley Springs, in Morgan County, West Virginia, in 1977, they quickly got their new business-the 325-seat movie theater-up and running. But there were few shops, no spas, and no place to eat after 7 p.m. There were a few artists and some old-time music, however, and that was all it took for Jeanne to arouse interest in the Morgan Arts Council she founded. "Forty people came to the first meeting," she recalls, and when she realized none of them knew each other, she knew she'd found her work.
Jeanne also knew that art could be an economic force to revitalize the historic town once celebrated for its warm mineral springs, and she recognized the synergy between the arts and tourism; the people who come for the spas, B and B's, and shopping will also support the arts. Today, with three galleries, curated exhibits, and open studio tours, Berkeley Springs is home to some 150 artists who work in jewelry, ceramics, textiles, glass, metal, painting, photography, and more. The town attracts retirees as well and was recently voted the No. 2 arts destination among American small towns and cities. Along the way to making this happen (and as she was logging more than 50,000 volunteer hours), Jeanne also managed to found the Museum of Berkeley Springs and Travel Berkeley Springs.
"We never sat down and said, 'Let's see how we can revitalize Berkeley Springs.' We just took the opportunity whenever we could," Jeanne explains. "Now artists are in the fabric of daily life." The Morgan Arts Council mission statement-"Getting art out there"-has a similar directness and reflects Jeanne's innate pragmatism that "You don't necessarily need a main-street program, or even a friendly town government. It's more sustainable when it is derived from the industry itself. When artists come and are committed, you don't need a lot of state agencies." Nor is money all that is needed to bring art into the schools. Instead, it is community programming, and in Morgan County's student population of 2,000, there are 14 art teachers.
Today, Jeanne serves her third appointment to the West Virginia Commission of the Arts. But lest anyone assume her talents are strictly limited to administration, publicity, fund-raising, promotion, grant-writing, marketing, hosting a radio show, writing newsletters and press releases, and the list of other tasks she takes on, one of the favorite parts of her job is emceeing the hog-calling competition at the town's annual Apple Butter Festival.
"There is no real agriculture here, so this was not really about hog calling," she explains. "People come in costume, play the guitar, tell stories. It's performance art, and it's colossally successful." And you might still find her serving popcorn at the Star Theatre on Saturday nights. "It's always been about having fun," she concludes. "And about keeping your purpose in mind."