For years, Ellen Ball never went anywhere without a sketchpad and oil pastels. She was on what she calls an artistic journey, trying to find a medium that best suited her talents. In 2006, she took a jewelry making class, and something clicked.
“That was it. I jumped off the cliff, and I have been working in metal, primarily jewelry, for all that time,” she said.
Ball, who was born in Lenoir and raised largely in Hickory, was named the new executive director of the Caldwell Arts Council this week. She served as the assistant director for the past 16 months.
In addition to her work as an artist, her background includes business management, sales, marketing, advanced production, retail management, and administrative executive assistance.
“It really runs the gamut,” Ball said.
Ball began making art at an early age, entering a school art contest in the first grade.
Over the years, she has experimented with a variety of mediums, learning how to throw pots, make handmade paper, dye certain types of fabric, and paint.
“I love it all,” she said. “I have a corporate background that’s very broad, but I also understand the plight of the artist.
Ball is taking the reins of the arts council in an uncertain time.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts council suspended in-person programming, including its major fundraisers, and is doing what it can online.
“We can’t do anything. Our board has from the get-go put the safety of our patrons and everybody we serve … ahead of moving programs forward, and it’s the right thing to do at this point,” she said.
Among new programs she plans to launch when in-person programs are possible is a lap dulcimer class for senior citizens. Participants would be loaned an instrument and receive free instruction.
“That is a wonderful program, and we’re really eager to get started on it,” she said. “Hopefully by fall we will be able to do that.
Music classes help with seniors’ memory retention and with socialization.
“There’s a lot of data out there that talks about how, even people with dementia, they might not remember your name, but they remember music and they remember how to play a song,” she said.
Another new program will offer veterans free classes in acoustic guitar, fine arts and creative writing. The arts council has already lined up instructors, and classes will take place in a classroom at the HUB Station, the arts and business center in Hudson.
A third program that is a writing program for women that will be led by N.C. Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green. It is planned to be offered once a week over the course of four or five weeks this spring.
This fall, if the arts council is able to hold its premier event, the annual Sculpture Celebration, there will be a new “business and industrial category” in which employees from businesses can enter sculptures created using “either mis-cuts or seconds or scrap materials,” Ball said.
The arts council also plans “Trash Masters,” which will be a regular exhibition featuring art made from recycled materials.
Ball said Caldwell County’s arts community has enormous promise “to make Caldwell County an art hub, a center for arts countywide that a lot of counties don’t have. The potential is so huge.”
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.