Save the Arts celebrates and rewards the artistic impulse

by Keith Barber

Rasheem Pugh understands all too well what most artists experience on a daily basis.

Long ago, Pugh, an experienced songwriter, accepted the cruel fact that the far too many artists are destined to toil in relative anonymity throughout their entire careers.

One day, Pugh decided to do something about it. Pugh, a hip-hop artist, is the driving force behind the first annual Save the Arts Awards Show to be held Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Carolina Theater in downtown Greensboro.

A New Jersey native, Pugh was formerly a member of the group New Ark, who collaborated with Lauryn Hill on her smash hit 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Unfortunately, Pugh and his partners Vada Nobles, Tejumold and Johari Newton were not credited for their collaboration. Hill walked away with five Grammy Awards, but New Ark’s contributions were overlooked. New Ark won an out-of-court settlement for their contribution to Hill’s album, but it felt empty, Pugh said.

“We didn’t get a chance to walk on the stage and get that Grammy,” he said. “So I know what it feels like to do all that work and not get credit for it. It’s not about money; it’s about someone saying, ‘Great job!’” Pugh describes the Save the Arts Awards Show as “a Grammys for visual arts,” with prizes for painters, sculptors, architects and photographers. Pugh has even developed an award that looks and feels like a Grammy. The Save the Arts Award uses the same metals and the same gold plating as a Grammy. But the design is truly unique. The sculpture includes a protractor to honor architects, a chisel to honor sculptors and paint brushes to honor painters orbiting around a gold globe.

“This is the visual arts award,” Pugh said. As a former counselor for at-risk youth, Pugh said he could see the great need for expanded arts education opportunities in the community.

“I realize they weren’t troubled students, they were just bored,” Pugh said. “There was no outlet for them to do something creative. I thought if they had a place where they could go do something they like to do; if we had a place where these kids could develop life skills, that will keep them out of trouble and help the community.”

In that spirit, Pugh said all the proceeds from the Save the Arts show will go toward a proposed Art Kids program, and a Save the Arts Center. Pugh described the proposed center as “a hub for visual artists to learn a new skill or enhance a skill they already have.”

The arts center will be open to both children and adults, and will include a digital filmmaking and editing room, a computer room, a performance space and even a miniature golf course.

“It’s kind of like an updated YMCA with more media,” Pugh said. “There will be a classroom for Photoshop classes, a multipurpose classroom, a computer room, a break room, offices and a daycare facility.”

The Art Kids program will introduce school-age children to the joy of visual art, Pugh said.

Pugh said he is expecting 68 artists from all over the country to attend Saturday’s inaugural event. He’s also invited a lot of young people from the area. Pugh said he hopes to inspire and encourage young artists in the community by introducing them to successful artists.

Among those being honored Saturday are sculptor Annie Lee, painter Lynne Pittard and painter Peter Mack. Lee, Pittard and Mack have all been selected as recipients of the Quintessence Award, a lifetime achievement award, Pugh said.

Pugh will hand out a total of 15 awards Saturday night. He expressed hope that a successful event will generate momentum for future events and arts leaders in the community will hop on board the Save the Arts train.

“Once people see it’s real, that it’s great and something to be a part of, it’s going to snowball,” Pugh said. “This year is going to be incredible.”