smART Kinston holds 'Artist Talks' segment

smART Kinston holds 'Artist Talks' segment

From left, Jamil Burton, Brandon McCullar, Madeline Gray and Kim Garland spoke during the ‘Artist Talks’ segment Tuesday at the Community Council for the Arts through the smART Kinston City Project Foundation. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News

A focus for the arts brought a quartet of artists to Kinston.

Tuesday at the Community Council for the Arts, there was an “Artist Talks” event, where four artists spoke about their work, the process and vision as members of smART Kinston. The smART Kinston City Project Foundation was sponsored in 2012 by Stephen Hill, with a mission of helping to make Kinston a hub for arts in Eastern North Carolina — incorporating visual, literary, performance, culinary and contemporary arts, among other methods of expressionism.

Several dozen patrons came to town to witness four smART Kinston artists — Jamil Burton, Kim Garland, Madeline Gray and Brandon McCullar — and draw inspiration. Among the group was Goldsboro art educator Shyla Sutton, who said she was impressed by the paths the artists took.

“It was great to see the careers of some of these artists and the steps they’ve taken to get to where they are,” Sutton said. “There are many artists out there who have found their niche and others still looking to find their path.”

Kinston City Councilwoman Felicia Solomon was in attendance and said she appreciated the work Burton and another smART Kinston artist, Maximillian Mozingo, did for Rochelle Middle School.

“Jamil and Maximillian worked with a group at Rochelle for the Special Olympics, and have also allowed submitted pieces to the school,” said Solomon, the RMS principal. “The images reflect the children we serve and show what is possible — children of color as lawyers, doctors and scientists.”

Burton is a painter who focuses on themes such as family, love, society and political and religious issues. Although Burton hails from the North, he said he’s familiar with the South.

“I came from New Jersey, but graduated high school 25 years ago from Northern Nash in Rocky Mount,” Burton said. “I’ve traveled all over the country with my work, and I felt like this program made it worth coming here to try to make a mark in the Kinston community.

“So far, so good.”

Garland also has northern ties, hailing from Burlington, Vt.., and with a background in social work and justice, it plays toward her canvas works.

“I started looking at different communities and residencies to try a new experience,” Garland said. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and (Kinston) really appealed to me. I never lived in the South and having a program like this made me want to get on the ground floor.”

Gray is a freelance documentary photographer, who has placed focus on the community aspect and journalism. Gray said the decision to come to Kinston was buoyed by the program.

“My husband and I were looking to move out of the Raleigh area because he found a job in Eastern North Carolina, so we were looking for a community that was supportive of the arts,” Gray said. “We felt like this was an up-and-coming scene that placed emphasis on community involvement, found smART Kinston and it was a great situation.”

McCullar co-owns Southern Fried Metal with his wife and fellow artist, Heidi, in Kinston. McCullar, who is from Tuscaloosa, Ala., said smART Kinston intrigued him and made the jump after some time of contemplation.

“I had an established building business in Alabama and have friends from college living here,” McCullar said. “They put me onto the program, I thought about it for about a year and then I came for the tour. I talked to Stephen about his vision, then went back (to Alabama), prayed about it and decided to come here.

“I’m trying to add to the vision the best way I can.”

Hill said it felt great to hear the four artists speak and their different viewpoints.

“It really shows how you can diversify community with art,” Hill said. “Everyone comes from a different viewpoint and hopefully people can continue to realize that.”

To learn more about the artists and program, visit

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