2021 Arts & Culture Panel Discussion
Tuesday, February 9th @ 5:30pm
Panel Bios & Photos
Rhonda Bellamy is the founding executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, an agency she helped to establish in 2012. Its predecessor, the Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear, closed its doors in 2002.
Prior to full-time work in the arts, Rhonda was an award-winning news director/anchor/talk show host with 22 years in radio, television, and print in the Wilmington market. Currently she is host and executive producer of "Around Town with Rhonda Bellamy" on WHQR Public Media.
A co-founder of the Black Arts Alliance, Inc., she established the organization's signature North Carolina Black Film Festival, which has honored her with its Lifetime Achievement Award. She was recently named to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal's inaugural Top 100 (two years running) and has garnered numerous commendations including the City of Wilmington's Living Legend Award, Woman of Achievement Award in the Arts from the YWCA, and Woman of the Year by the New Hanover County Human Relations Commission. She was also honored to serve as the official Mistress of Ceremonies for the 59th Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival.
Rhonda has written and edited three books: “Moving Forward Together: A Community Remembers 1898”, “My Restless Journey”, the memoirs of iconic community leader Bertha Boykin Todd, and “Meet the Help: An Anthology of True Stories” inspired by the best-selling novel “The Help”. Her writing is also featured in several anthologies.
As an artist, Rhonda's passion lies in crafting one-woman stage performances from an extensive repertoire of literature. Other acting credits include the role of Billie Holliday in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" for Big Dawg Productions and the lead in "The Dance on Widows' Row, written and directed by Tony Award nominated playwright Samm Art Williams. Her voice is featured in television and radio promotions for the General Motors exhibition "A Slave Ship Speaks", the Japanese animation film "Blue 6", and numerous spoken word productions for WHQR.
Rhonda serves on the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Community Advisory Board and the executive committee of Arts North Carolina. Formerly she has served on the boards of Cameron Art Museum, New Hanover County Library Foundation, Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, and Domestic Violence Shelter and Services. In addition to being a charter member of the City of Wilmington's African-American Heritage Commission and the NC Azalea Festival Multicultural Committee, Rhonda was also a founding instructor at the Dreams Center for Arts Education.
A native of New York, Rhonda graduated from Wilmington's E.A. Laney High School and North Carolina Central University, where she holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Media/Journalism and graduate credits in Instructional Media.
The mother of two enjoys spending time with her four grandchildren.
Kevin Blackburn serves as the Executive Director at DREAMS Center for Arts Education. He has spent the past 9 years working with youth nonprofits throughout Wilmington, serving in roles ranging from program coordinator to director of business and finance. He is passionate about ensuring equity of access to the arts for youth and teens, and he strongly believes in the power of creativity to change the world and bring people together. He attended UNCW, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management & Leadership. He currently serves on the Arts North Carolina Board of Directors, on the Community Advisory Board of WHQR Public Media, and is the Chair of the Northside Health and Well-Being Improvement Team's Community Engagement Subcommittee.
Dan Brawley is the Chief Instigating Officer of the Cucalorus Film Festival, an international celebration of filmmaking, performance and justice taking place in multiple venues mainly in downtown Wilmington. Cucalorus programs focus on dance, social justice, cocktails, music, and performance. Brawley is Past-President of the Film Festival Alliance, an independent non-profit organization supporting mission-driven film festivals around the world. Brawley was an Academic All-American on the Duke University Golf team in the 1990s.
Shane Fernando has been serving in the public and higher education administration field for over twenty years. He is Vice President of Advancement & the Arts at Cape Fear Community College, overseeing the Foundation and institutional development. He also serves as executive and artistic director of the Wilson Center. He was recognized in 2019 as Presenter of the Year by the North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents.
One major focus of his work has been supporting and developing opportunities to engage students during their experience at CFCC through education, employment, service, and advocacy, especially at CFCC’s Wilson Center whose mission drives it to “to serve as a laboratory for student learning.” He created and oversees fundraising for CFCC’s Broadway for a Better World Program (a collaboration with the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County). In the program’s first 2 years, over 110K of tickets have been distributed to the region’s area not-for-profits and CFCC students, through the generosity of private donors.
He previously served at UNC Wilmington, as Director of Campus Life Arts and Programs, overseeing UNCW Presents, the Arts in Action Performance and the Leadership Lecture Series, Ann Flack Boseman Gallery, and Lumina Theater; he also taught as an adjunct professor in the UNCW Department of Communication Studies.
Fernando earned a communication studies degree and a master's degree in public administration from UNC Wilmington. He conceived and spearheaded the fundraising for the UNCW Millennium Clock Tower as senior class president in 2000, bringing in over $150,000; it is still the largest student organized gift in the nation. After graduation he moved to Washington, DC to work in the U.S. Senate. He currently serves as a trustee for Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts and is also the programming consultant for the Hall, overseeing the booking of the Main Attractions Series.
Fernando also serves as a trustee for DanceUSA (our nation’s advocacy organization for the American dance industry), where he chairs the organization’s development committee. He was appointed in 2017 as an advisor to the National Dance Project by the New England Foundation for the Arts, which distributes grant funding for the creation of new American dance works; he is also a cohort member of the South Arts Dance Touring Initiative, advocating for the dance genre across the American South through grant funding, education, and advocacy. His work at the Wilson Center supports the creation and development of new work, including techs for national Broadway tours and dance companies, as most recently workshopping a new musical with BD Wong.
He was recognized as “WilmingtonBiz 100 – one of the region’s most influential and innovative people” in 2019 and 2020 respectively and “Most Intriguing People of 2014” by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, “One of the 12 to Watch in 2015” by the Wilmington Star News, and was recognized as the “Best Director of a Musical” for the Wilmington Theatre Awards in 2015. He serves on the North Carolina Arts Council Choreography Fellowship Panel, as well as the advisory committee for the Masters of Public Administration program at UNC Wilmington.
Fernando currently serves as immediate past-president of the North Carolina Presenters Consortium, is a public arts commentator for WHQR Public Radio and a member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). He has been a director, property master, and actor in over 150 Wilmington theatre productions. Shane is also a backyard beekeeper.
Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman
Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman was raised in Wilmington, NC on the Northside of the city. He grew up with a strong support system of his family, church and Community Boys and Girls Club. He says, “If it wasn’t for the Community Boys and Girls Club…I would probably be going in your house right now!”
Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman used his musical talent of playing the trombone and percussion to catapult him into a scholarship at Norfolk State University where he was a member of the Spartan Legion Marching Band. It was there where Bigg B branded his name as a “Host” and “Funny Man” on campus. Upon graduation, Bigg B began teaching school in Charleston, SC and then returning to Wilmington, NC to teach and join the Coast 97.3 team as a DJ. Additionally, Bigg B founded Urban Promotions, an organization for teens to voice their concerns and opinions to community leaders. Bigg B travels the east coast speaking, motivating and presenting workshops for youth and adults on HIP HOP 101, History, and Diversity in the Workplace.
Currently Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman is the Program Director and afternoon on-air personality for WMNX-COAST 97.3. Additionally, he is the President of the Black Arts Alliance of Wilmington, NC and the Lead Programmer for the North Carolina Film Festival.
Fidias Reyes was born into the arts. Her mother is a singer, her uncles are musicians, and her sisters are actors. It only makes sense she would take over the director for arts engagement for UNCW Presents and its Lumina Festival of Arts. After serving as interim director for a year, Reyes became the official director in April to provide support to five academic departments on UNCW’s campus.
“I have the opportunity to bring the arts to students and the community through all kinds of outreach activities, such as residencies, workshops, lectures, and demonstrations,” she says. “I also continue to work with New Hanover County Schools and Cameron Art Museum on developing more arts integration opportunities for teachers.”
She works with visiting artists who perform at UNCW to coordinate master classes and engagements for youth and teens.
“My goal is to continue to engage with UNCW and the community and inject the arts into every initiative and conversation,” Reyes says. “I want the arts to be seen, not just as a source of entertainment, but as a tool for conflict resolution and community building.”
Off-campus, Reyes’ volunteer work centers around the arts, too, as she serves on the board of directors at DREAMS of Wilmington. At the height of the pandemic, she helped the nonprofit adapt and create video content for its social media.
“The arts, regardless of the discipline,” she says, “is how I communicate best. It’s how I understand the world.”
Liz Scanlon moved to Wilmington in June of 2019 and promptly became involved in the community. She earned her Real Estate License thinking that Wilmington would be a great place to start a new career. Her interest in the arts led her to the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra webpage where she discovered they were looking for an Executive Director. She was hired in September of 2019.
Liz originally wanted to be a Librarian, but after finishing her master’s degree in Hospitality, combined with her love for music, she joined New England Conservatory (NEC) as the Director of Special Events. She spent eight years at the organization overseeing all faculty, alumni, donor, and student events as well as fundraising for the Music for All $100 Million Capital Campaign. She moved from the conservatory to work with NEC alum Janice Mancini Del Sesto at the Boston Lyric Opera. From there she moved to Rhode Island and worked at the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School, her alma mater Johnson & Wales, and New England Institute of Technology as a fundraiser and Director of Alumni Relations. Her work history reflects her passion for the arts and youth education.
Liz earned a degree in English Literature from Stonehill College and a master’s degree in Hospitality Management from Johnson and Wales University. She was given the Outstanding Alumni Award from Johnson & Wales University and, as a cellist, was a founding member of the Stonehill Community Orchestra. She is grateful every day that when she decided to move, the “pin” landed in Wilmington.
Heather Wilson is the Deputy Director of Cameron Art Museum. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from UNC-Wilmington and is a writer, a teacher, an editor, an arts administrator, and a mother. She was the founding editor of Ecotone, an editor for Chautauqua, and, with her husband filmmaker Adam Alphin, has produced a documentary about the Battle of Forks Road.