Celebrating Howard arts

The Baltimore Sun

As a writer, choreographer, director, actress, radio host and, for nine years, chairwoman of the Glenelg Country School performing arts department, Carole Graham Lehan said she rarely works alone.

'That's the thing about performing arts," she said, "you have to adapt and collaborate with other people and use what gifts they bring to the table."

That is why she feels conflicted about being singled out to receive the Howard County Arts Council's Outstanding Arts Educator Award this year, she said.

"In the work I do, I rely so much on collaborators," she said. "It's using everyone's gifts to create something new."

Nonetheless, the committee for the annual Howie Awards believes the Glenelg resident deserves praise for her wide-ranging education career.

She will be recognized, along with sculptor Ralph R. Baney of Ellicott City, who is being honored as outstanding artist, and Holly and Karl Thomas of Columbia, who were named outstanding community supporters, at the arts council's Celebration of the Arts, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.

The gala fundraiser is in its 10th year and has raised $652,850 for the arts council's grant programs, student scholarships and other activities, said Coleen West, executive director of the council.

This year, the evening will include food, entertainment and a silent auction. For the fifth year, 10 singers, dancers and instrumentalists will perform onstage in hopes of attracting enough audience votes to receive one of three Rising Star awards of up to $5,000.

In recent years, the Howie Awards have been presented while the audience votes are being tallied, giving the council a chance to recognize the efforts of several community members.

"Artists a lot of the time have a kind of lonely vigil," said Barbara K. Lawson of the Columbia Foundation, who headed this year's Howie Award committee. "They are not always supported to the level they should be, and they keep on doing the work. ... Educators never receive the remuneration or the accolades they deserve, and patrons are the same way."

Among the candidates for the educator award, Lehan "seemed like she went above and beyond what you might expect from a teacher," Lawson said.

Lehan recalled being influenced by her experiences performing a musical look at U.S. history with the Young Columbians in the mid-1970s. That group of youth ages 10 to 20 went on regional and national tours associated with the United States bicentennial.

Lehan, 47, said the experience was "dynamic ... there was an energy that was so positive. It was really unlike any other venture." It also taught her to adapt quickly to new stages, cast changes and other situations, a lesson that she said arises often in the arts and in life.

She interrupted her studies at Catholic University to perform with the National Players classical touring company and traveled to other countries with the United Service Organization. She said one of her favorite things about touring was giving theater workshops for youth in the cities she visited.

After that, "It was clear to me I wanted to be a teacher," she said. "There is something that changes in the energy of the eyes when someone gets what we're working on. ... I love the storytelling aspect of theater, teaching them to tell a story."

Lehan earned a bachelor's degree in 1983 and later earned a master's in comparative literature from the University of Maryland, College Park.

She married Michael Lehan, who was her dance partner in a production of Annie Get Your Gun at Toby's Dinner Theatre, and cared for two sons while pursuing a diverse collection of teaching, acting, directing, voice-over and writing opportunities throughout the area.

That included about 10 years as director of the nonprofit Theatrical Arts Productions, which is part of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. She wrote plays for adult actors to perform for young audiences.

Lehan wrote a play about black neurosurgeon Ben Carson that still is performed today as part of an outreach project to schools and community groups by the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. The project, which recently expanded into Baltimore County, "speaks to [CCTA's] mission, to my personal mission to empower students at a young age, help them discover their gifts," she said.

In 1998, her desire to balance her life as an artist, a wife and a mother helped her decide to accept a position as chairwoman of the Glenelg Country School performing arts department, although she has continued to direct, choreograph and perform at Toby's Dinner Theater, Rep Stage and other venues.

"Carole has always been a caring, nurturing person that wanted to engage and get the best in everyone," said Toby Orenstein, who has been Lehan's friend and mentor for more than three decades. "She connects with kids. She makes learning fun, and she's a wonderful motivator."

Four years ago, Lehan helped found the Cappies program, which enlists teams of student critics to review high school shows and then vote for a winners in performance and production categories.

That project "has provided opportunities for students, especially at smaller schools, to be a part of a larger community," she said, "and that can impact them on their future choices when they go into a university situation."

As a sculptor, Ralph R. Baney is a more solitary artist, but has earned a worldwide reputation over 50 years.

The Trinidad native moved to the United States in 1971 and earned a master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland. According to the arts council, he has had numerous exhibits in Columbia and around the world, including a retrospective at the National Museum and Art Gallery in Trinidad. His 22-foot mural stands in the Scotia Center in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

"He just has a wonderful history," Lawson said. "He has quite an impressive portfolio. It's time we recognized our residents who are making that kind of impact."

Lawson said Holly and Karl Thomas are helping many artists make an impact on Howard County audiences as "stalwart supports of the arts."

In addition to being fixtures at art events of all types, "they kind of single-handedly have kept Candlelight Concert series going," Lawson said.

As new Columbia residents 33 years ago, the two got involved with Candlelight after seeing a poster for the group, which brings world-class chamber music to Columbia.

"It was kind of an immediate recognition of a wonderful organization that was giving so much fine arts to the community," Holly Thomas said.

Holly is the group's president and artistic director and Holly and Karl have both served on board of directors at different times.

Holly, an attorney and trained violinist, also co-founded the Columbia Orchestra, now an 80-piece ensemble, to create an outlet for people who wanted to play symphonic music. She is on its board of directors.

"I just think the arts are flourishing in Howard County" Holly said, "and people are fortunate to live here and experience these things close to home."


The Celebration for the Arts will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Information: 410-313-2787.

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