When George Holt, former director of the North Carolina Arts Council’s Folklife Program, joined the staff of the North Carolina Museum of Art in the fall of 1996, he introduced folklife-related programming that has drawn new audiences to the museum. As director of performing arts and film programs, he manages the programming for the museums 3,000 capacity open-air theater and an outdoor film facility. Holt produces a popular summer concert and film series that frequently features traditional music from North Carolina, the southern United States, and beyond.
Occasionally, live music and film screenings have been combined in related events such as performances by North Carolina ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams, the southern-born singer/songwriter Iris DeMent, and presentation of the film Songcatcher, which tells the story of a musicologist who visits western North Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century to study and collect British ballads. One schedule included a concert by The Whites followed by a screening of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Another event that proved popular featured author Charles Frazier reading passages from his novel Cold Mountain interspersed with performances of the kind of music described in the text: old-time banjo and fiddle music, southern ballads, and shape-note singing. The summer series also regularly features concerts by well known Cajun and Celtic bands, blues musicians, and world music artists.
From time to time, Holt organizes special projects in direct support of the museum’s special exhibitions. In collaboration with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, for example, he brought a group of distinguished Turkish artists to North Carolina after their festival appearance. The museum, then, was able to host a group of Turkish musicians, ceramicists, and a calligrapher in a program of events that enriched an exhibition of Ottoman art. To complement photographer Bill Bamberger’s show “Closing,” which documented the demise of the White Furniture Factory in Mebane, North Carolina, Holt presented a program of music from the piedmont, featuring African American fiddler Joe Thompson and Mike Seeger.
He has also been instrumental in creating special exhibitions or the museum. “The Potters Eye” exhibit, which opened in 2005, was years in the making. It raises the visibility of traditional 19th-century and contemporary North Carolina pottery by placing it alongside examples from some of the world’s great ceramic traditions.