Society of Arts and Letters continues

MARIETTA — Although it’s been around for more than 60 years and has conferred numerous awards to young people who are aspiring artists, the Ohio River Valley chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters has kept a low profile.

And despite its esoteric name, there’s nothing snooty about the organization, which has about 70 members in the Marietta-Parkersburg area.

Chapter president Geoff Coward has made it his goal to increase the profile and the membership numbers. An open meeting Saturday at noon, which will include lunch and live music, will induct a dozen new members.

The society’s most prominent event is an annual regional competition that offers the winner $1,000 and the chance to compete in a national contest, with expenses paid, generally held in Washington, D.C.

Membership director David Rexroad said interest has already picked up, thanks to Coward’s emphasis on bringing in new people.

“We’ve had better luck this year than in quite some time,” he said. “Geoff is behind that; it’s been his No.1 goal, and he’s charged all current members to find a new one. We’ve 12 new people to be inducted Saturday, and that’s quite an increase.”

Like most service organizations, the NASL has a challenge in recruiting young people.

“We’re certainly trying; we’ve made that a goal,” Rexroad said. “We want the organization to stay viable; it does such good work. We promote arts among young people; we have an annual competition; the more younger people we can get, the more vibrant the organization will be.”

Membership generally is available to people who are arts professionals, who have training or competence in a branch of the arts or are sponsoring the work of artists. Rexroad noted that current members also can sponsor new members.

Jayne Whitlow was chapter president until 2018. She said the society’s work is valuable.

“We have an important role to play in fostering the arts among young people and young professionals,” she said. “We hold the regional competition, a showcase of the arts once a year for students in grades 6-12, something to give them a little step up in the performing arts. In April we had a violinist, dancers, drama, musical theater and piano, quite a range of local talent.” The students, she said, were paid $50 each for their work.

The national organization confers $60,000 a year in scholarships and awards for visual arts, performing arts and literature.

Many of the members in the Ohio River Valley chapter are educators — Whitlow said she taught theater at Parkersburg South High School — and the group shares members with other arts-oriented organizations.

“Other members of educational systems work with us, and that’s how we get young artists to participate,” she said. “I’ve been to three of our national conventions, and they are interesting events. At one of them, the judge also was an agent and signed the national winner, who got the lead in an ABC miniseries. This is a national organization, and if you win you frequently have an entree into the national arts scene.”

Coward said the local chapter held its competition in April — the arts branch rotates from year to year, and this year it was drama — with five finalists. The independent judges chose to send Ethan Schaeffer, an 18-year-old from Parkersburg South High School, to the national competition. He was the youngest competitor in the nationals.

Coward will deliver a report from the nationals to the membership at the induction ceremony Saturday, which starts at 12:45 p.m. in the Peoples Bank Theatre. It is open to the public, and anyone interested in promotion of the arts in the area can attend.

The membership event will be followed by a performance by Tiffany CasaSante, Tasha Spencer and Su Voycik-Meredith, accompanied by Jane Irvine, of a medley of musical theater songs.

“A lot of people are as interested in the arts — they enjoy the whole range of arts, and in this area especially music — as they are in sports, and the National Society of Arts and Letters is a means of doing something to be sure that the arts are there for people to see,” Coward said. “There’s not much money out there to support them, and this organization starts, really from the ground level, to create opportunities for young members of the community to express themselves in the arts, possibly through the career opportunities.”

Information about the organization is available at arts-nsal.org or by contacting Ohio River Valley chapter membership director David Rexroad at davidpbrg@outlook.com.


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