Article and photo by St. Claire Donaghy
“If you love what you do, it makes you more motivated to learn new things,” Ferguson said, noting she’s learned a lot in her time with GPA, including how to use small business management software. “I have been really happy to see lots of things happen during my time with GPA that I had as goals for the organization…I think I’m going out on a good note.”
A nonprofit, Greenwood Performing Arts celebrated its 70th anniversary this year with a gala. Its mission is to present diverse professional artistic performances that entertain and educate, to enhance area quality of life.
Funded in part by donor and sponsor contributions, GPA is also supported through the City of Greenwood, Greenwood County, and the South Carolina Arts Commission, which receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Fundraising for GPA is key, Ferguson said, noting ticket prices don’t fully cover costs of performances.
“Approximately 800 people attended our June antiques show and sale that included vendors from all over,” Ferguson said. “One of my favorite pieces was a blue Andrew Wyeth painting. It was breathtakingly beautiful and, as an art teacher, I really appreciated it. To see the types of things that were there was educational.”
Throughout the event, local musicians and vocalists performed.
Ferguson said goals met during her six years include:
- Developing an updated logo and brand, with help from Lander University graphic arts students.
- Bringing in nationally recognized performers such as Sandi Patty, 2015 Grammy winner Mike Farris, New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, with a full orchestra,
- and the Atlanta Pops Orchestra with John Driskell Hopkins.
- Finding space for the organization in Uptown Greenwood’s cultural arts district. GPA’s offices are in the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce and its performances are now staged at Greenwood Community Theatre. Previously, they were at Lander University’s Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center Auditorium.
- Successfully completing two fundraisers, including an anniversary gala with beloved Greenwood native performers Keith Jameson, Nat Chandler and Ethan Flowe and the recent Antiques Vintage Design Show and Sale during the second week of the South Carolina Festival of Flowers.
Ferguson said she notified GPA board members in May of her decision to resign as executive director. The job opening has been posted and resumes are being accepted.
Outgoing GPA board president, Lisa Sanders, said she’s excited for Ferguson to be able to return to the classroom.
“Those students are fortunate to be in the hands of a gifted artist,” Sanders said. “I’m really tickled she has said she will stay involved with Greenwood Performing Arts. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
“Cecily just has such a passion for all the arts,” Sanders added.
“She was with us from the transition from Lander to the community theater and she brought performers from all over the world to Greenwood. She formed partnerships with different local organizations and collaborated.”
Sanders said several people who’ve taken part in GPA fundraisers, namely the antiques show and vintage design sale, have indicated they would like to participate again.
“She has been instrumental in bringing the performing arts to a new level in Greenwood,” Sanders said. “It’s exciting to see what the next chapter holds.”
Ferguson said her successor doesn’t have to be an artist or performer, but should be someone with a love for the arts and the creative process.
Ferguson said it’s also important to know the community.
“If you expect the same things that go over well in Greenville to do so here, they might not,” she said.
The caliber of entertainment brought to the stage has often also brought “super fans” of some of the acts to Greenwood to see shows, Ferguson said, noting these devoted fans travel from far and wide to follow their favorites on tour.
“That happened last season with Melinda Doolittle, an American Idol finalist,” Ferguson said. “People from three different parts of the U.S. attended both her outreach and performance here.”
Ferguson said as executive director of an arts-related nonprofit “you quickly learn not to be awestruck” by famous performers.
She’s shuttled a Dancing with the Stars performer from the airport and kept watch over a multi-million dollar violin while violinist Ray Chen grabbed a bite to eat, and she received a handwritten thank you note from Sandi Patty.
Keeping ticket prices affordable and making art available for everyone, especially children, is important, Ferguson said, noting intergenerational outreach is a key component of the present day GPA. It brings together senior adults and school children, with the performers. “It’s important too that who you put on stage mirrors the demographics of the community,” Ferguson said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been working on.
“When we had the Crystal Trio perform this past season, it was really neat to see children and older adults trying to play the group’s specially made glass instruments from Russia,” Ferguson continued. “Some students had a better grip on how to do it and they were showing the seniors. It was neat to see that, and they were all awwsking questions.”
In conjunction with GPA, while a sophomore theater major at Lander University, Mary Evan Giles took a master class with Franc D’Ambrosio, an American singer and actor, best known for his role in the stage version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
“It was really cool to be able to receive feedback from him when we sang for him individually,” Giles, 23, said. “I was completely shocked when he chose me to sing at his (GPA) concert the following night.”
Ferguson said everyone who participated in that master class was profoundly impacted.
“It was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen,” Ferguson said. “These performers are incredibly hard workers and most are very, very humble. Many take selfies with the entire audience in the background behind them and meet them after the show.”
Ferguson, 58, of Abbeville, is a graphic artist who has worked as a teacher in Greenville and Abbeville county school districts. She was assistant principal and on-site supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice middle and high school programs at a juvenile facility formerly in Greenwood.
For five years, she was principal of McCormick Middle School. She retired from that position in 2009 and returned to the Abbeville school district to teach art at Wright Middle School. She is a married mother to four children, all of whom enjoy the arts, Ferguson said.
“I have always loved the education system,” Ferguson said.
“I’ve loved it as a teacher and principal both. I’m happy to be able to go back to the classroom full-time, teaching art at Wright Middle School.”
For two years now, Ferguson noted she has been teaching in the morning and working for GPA in the afternoons.
“It will be nice to have one full-time job,” she said.
Ferguson received a bachelor’s degree in studio art and a master’s in education from Furman University. At Furman, she got involved with a social activities board, negotiating contracts with nationally known performers.
Ferguson has long been a patron of the arts, attending a variety of performances at different venues and acting in Abbeville Opera House productions. She’s also an accomplished calligrapher.
“I love art in all forms and fashions,” Ferguson said. “Every well-rounded individual needs exposure to the arts, both performing and visual arts…There’s merit to all. So much today is seen on a screen. Nothing can compare to live performance.”