Communique: Annual "Arts Sensation" Benefits Cape Fear River Watch | Saturday @ Thalian Hall

Apr 24, 2018

Forward Motion Dance presents Arts Sensation with Wilmington Big Band and a variety of dance, this Saturday, April 28 at Thalian Hall. This will be the 3rd year Cape Fear River Watch will receive all ticket sale proceeds.

It may be the last year, since organizations generally benefit in 3-year cycles from Arts Sensation performances.

Elilzabeth White, a guest dancer and Board Member of Forward Motion Dance, and Frank Yelverton, Executive Director of Cape Fear River Watch, joined us. Listen above or see our extended conversation below. Frank and other CFRW representatives will be at the performance and available to answer questions about their work.

The performance begins at 7:30pm Saturday night. Wilmington Big Band performs for the first half of the show, followed by a variety of dance genres, from modern to ballet to belly.

Tickets are available through the Thalian Hall Box Office, online, and at the door.

Elizabeth White & Frank Yelverton
Credit WHQR/gg

Elizabeth: This is the 17th annual Art Sensation performance and it's a benefit performance. So this year we're benefiting the Cape Fear River Watch. It is a combination of music and dance. The first 30 minutes or so of the show is the Wilmington Big Band with Jim and Laura Mcfayden and the orchestra, so we're very excited for them to be there. And then the second half is dances from local choreographers here. And we have once again for the 17th year the Company T Tappers will be dancing to a piece by  Duke Ellington, music by Natalie Cole. So we're excited about that. Kelly Hawes will be belly dancing and that's always great. We have a piece from the US International Ballet, Wilmington Ballet Company, Wilmington School of Ballet. They're doing a piece that was in the Wizard of Oz, a classical piece called Emeralds.

 And we also have some students from the dance theater of Dreams, doing a piece choreographed by local choreographer, Kevin Green, and also from Dreams we have a solo artist doing a hip hop dance.

And we're excited about all the different genres. We have a girls group, called Girls Dance, and we also have some teen dancers from the Dance Element doing a piece that they performed at the Emerging Choreographer Showcase. And we have two pieces that just were recently premiered in the Wilmington dance festival, one by Avalon Murphy called Continuum. And also a new modern piece from Forward Motion Dance choreographed by Tracey Varga called Scrambled to Calm by two cellos. So those are some of the highlights of the dancing. The Big Band and the dancing- it's going to be a great show. 

Gina:      Are you dancing?

Elizabeth:  I am not. I'm actually going to be in the audience cheering it on this year.

Gina:      Elizabeth, what does it mean to be on the Board of Forward Motion, what does that entail?

Elizabeth: One of the great things about Forward Motion is that we're a non-profit that helps other non-profits. So that kind of makes us special I think. We get together and we discuss, you know, the performances, the upcoming performances. Of course we discuss fundraisers on how we can fund our performances. So that's a big part of it. And how we can get out there and advertise and that type of thing, and how we can get out to the community and what we can do to, to help and bring our art of dance to the community.

I'm a guest dancer. I've been with Tracey since it began actually when she moved here and started dancing. I saw a sign with like, whoa, modern dance. I hadn't danced in so long, I'm going to go back. And so I started with her in like 1996, I think, we started. Through those years. I've been in and out and in and out, in and out, and Tracy's been plugging away and she'd always call me, come back, come back. And so now I have had more time to devote to dance and wanted to get more involved with the board. It's a great organization.

Gina:      This is the third that this art sensation is going to be raising money for the Cape Fear River Watch. So the board decides a what non-profit in the area will receive the funds?

Elizabeth:       It actually started 17 years ago, Tracey had heard that the Food Bank was in need of some help and she started Forward Motion. She started saying, Hey, you know, why don't we get some local musicians and dancers together and have a show that benefits and gives us a way to help? And so it started with the Food Bank and I think they did that for several years. We've also given to Good Shepherd, Indo Jax,, Full Belly, Domestic Violence, Cape Fear Hospice, Kids Making It, The Arts Council, and Food Banks of Coastal North Carolina.

              So in the 17 years, we've given to a lot of different nonprofit organizations. And the Cape Fear River Watch I think is just at this point in time, we just feel that it's very important to support what they're doing. And so we've been on board to try to help them and give to them the last few years.

Gina:      Is there a specific monetary structure to this, like a percentage or something?

Elizabeth:       Well, it's total.  It's $20 ticket and, and all the proceeds go to Cape Fear River Watch.

Gina:      Wow.  So buying a ticket, even if you can't make it is not a bad idea.

Elizabeth:       Not a bad idea at all. But come, because it's going to be a great show.    

I'm excited about all the pieces. I think we have some new people this year. We haven't had a lot of the youth. Like, we're having the dreams dancers and the girls dancers and the teen dancers. I think we have some new emerging choreographers that are presenting this year. So I'm excited about that. But you know, it's always, the dancing is good. I'm a fan of watching.

Gina:      So when you, when you're out there watching it or your feet moving, they are. And just the last time I went to the Wilmington dance festival recently and I was like, Whoa, I need to be back up.  Why am I sitting here? So.

Frank,  I want to start with a little background just in terms of like just tell me a little history about the Cape Fear River Watch and how did you become the Executive Director?

Frank:     Cape Fear River Watch was established in 1993 and we became a nonprofit in 1994. Our mission is to protect and enhance the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River through education, advocacy and advocacy and action. And we have a great time doing it. How do I become involved? I used to work as a marine biologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers and through that process dealt a lot with the Cape Fear River. And got involved with the Cape Fear River Watch, got to know them, what a great organization it was. They invited me to speak at several Saturday seminars. And through that, when I got to the point that I wanted to retire with the Corps of Engineers, there was a job advertised at that time, the Associate Director of Cape Fear River Watch. I applied for it, was selected for that position and then sometime later I got promoted to Executive Director.

Gina:      How long have you lived here in Wilmington?

Frank:     I've been here about 43 years.

Gina:      What's going on with our river? Looking back a little bit, a little ways. Was the river clean? What are you dealing with?

Frank:     Was the river ever clean, it was before colonial times and since then there's been a series of pollution issues. It is cleaner now than it was, you know, 30, 40 years ago before the Clean Water Act came into effect. But we have a lot of issues going on now with Gen X, everybody's heard about Gen X and pollution from Chemours. We have some issues also with pollution from some of the concentrated animal feeding operations, high fecal coliform concentrations. And we also have some fisheries issues. There used to be a great population of what they call anagamous fish there. Fish like striped bass and sturgeon and shad, they spend most of their time of salt water, but when run up the freshwater to spawn. But there was a series of dams put on the Cape Fear River, and the Corps of Engineers and Cape Fear River Watch and many others who are going through the process of trying to get fish passage on those to restore their populations. They are currently like 10 percent of the historic levels and if we couldn't get them back to close to 90 or a hundred percent of their historic levels, just think of all the opportunities for recreation, commercial fishing, all the tourism and restaurants and everything would be benefited by that.

Gina:      How do you use money with it at the Cape Fear River Watch? How can you use money to make things happen?

Frank:     Well, we're a non-profit, as is Forward Motion Dance, so we use money from all kinds of sources. This is a great source. We get grants from foundations, contracts, many different fundraisers we conduct throughout the year. So this is vital to our survival and vital to how we’ll be able to accomplish our mission.

              Everything starts with education. One of our components of our mission is education, so we're in the schools teaching the kids about pollution and watersheds and the environment and recycling. We have summer camps where half our children are scholarship children from households that cannot afford it. We also partner with Keep New Hanover Beautiful, which is an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. We have monthly clean ups throughout the New Hanover, Brunswick County area, so education is very important and action such as these cleanups are very important.

But also in some cases if people don't listen or heat or violate laws, we partner with the Southern Environmental Law center and others to try to bring lawsuits against these people to correct their actions.

Gina:      Last year sometime, I had some folks in talking about the River Watch and talking about those dams and what's going on with that.

Frank:     I'm a marine biologists who used to work for the Corps of Engineers and I was the lead biologist when we constructed the fish passage, lock and dam number one. And it was mitigation for actually dredging and deepening a Cape Fear River and some of that involved blasting and blessing could impact endangered species of fish like this short and knows Atlantic sturgeon and so we had to do mitigation and that was fish passage lock and dam number one, which has been basically a big rapids, a big set of rocks. It looks like a natural rapids.

So we're in the process now. We have a contract to tweak that lock and dam number one to actually improve it with other partners, and also involved in a contract who design fish passage and locks and dams two and three, so hopefully when the design gets done and we get construction funds, we can restore that fishery.

              The funding came from the various sources. Some of it came from a contract. We currently have a contract with the state of North Carolina to look at modifying lock and dam number one for improved fish passage and also for construction of that proposed modification. We're also involved in other contracts with Bladen county, North Carolina who has received funds from various sources for this study of fish passages on lock and dams two and three. We’re one of the many partners in that action.

Gina:      That’s passages that's so that the fish can go where they need to go…

Frank:     Yeah. So how much time do you have?

Let me try to give you a quick summary.

The main impact that the three dams have on the Cape Fear River on fisheries are anagamous fish. Anagamous fish are those who spend most of the time in salt water, but run up to freshwater to spawn. Most people think about salmon. We don't have that in North Carolina, but we do have striped bass, shad, and sturgeon. So these spawning grounds for these fish historically is way upstream of Fayetteville, where those three locks and dams are between here and Fayetteville. So they can't get to historic spawning grounds, they have minimal success in reproducing and reestablishing historic population levels.

Now, some of them are making it through the only way they can make it through now, locks and dams two and three are actually locking the fish as they would a vessel, but only about 20 percent of those populations are actually making it through those locks to this  spawning ground. But if a hundred percent couldn't make it, then you'd have restored fishery in...in just a few years.

Gina:      How long do you think it will take to get passageway in lock and dam two and three?

Frank:     My crystal ball I left in the car, but, if we can get fish passage lock and dam two and three design, it will be done within a year. But then you’ve got to have construction funds. And currently we don't have a source of construction funds, so it's only a guess and when we get there.

When we get construction funds, and construction is done within the next five years, then it might be another five to 10 years after that before the populations would have time to reestablish.

Gina:      But they would establishing, as soon as those passageways are open, that would, it would be like, the process would begin?

Frank:     Yes.

Gina:      Is there a possibility that the state of North Carolina or the federal government will help pay for the construction?

Frank:     We're pursuing all avenues. The federal government and state government are certainly interested in this, but it's a matter of getting the funds to do it. And I personally believe once the design is done, then the construction funds will follow. But when is only a guess.

Gina:      And then the fish go up to Fayetteville, and then there's Chemours there.

Frank:     Well, their spawning ground is upstream of Fayetteville. So they’ve got to get past that. Oh, of course, it was one of my concerns too, if the water is polluted, are we getting all these fish upstream to a polluted area? So we're, hopeful these things will be resolved in the near future.

Gina:      Do polluting companies donate money?

Frank:     We need money to survive as a non-profit, but we are selective. We don't receive money nor would we receive money from organizations we disagree with.

Gina:      But you liked the dancers? (laughs)

Frank:     Yes. They have nothing in conflict with Cape Fear River Watch. (laughs) You need to get a picture of my bumper sticker. My daughter, who's also a biologist, gave it to me, It says, “ignore the environment, it will go away.”