Students chat with Durham artist Candy Carver at the opening of Carver's art exhibit "You Are Going to Be Fine."


NCSSM endowments fund arts opportunities for students

North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics fine arts coordinator Scott Laird was excited one fall morning about the next evening’s opening reception for an art exhibition by the noted Durham artist Candy Carver. Carver’s brightly-colored and intricately patterned abstract

paintings celebrating the African-American female form already lined the atrium gallery outside NCSSM’s auditorium. Laird was able to offer Carver a modest honorarium to mount the exhibition and to visit with student painters and visual artists (which the school’s high-aptitude science and mathematics scholars also tend to be).

“The student-teacher relationship — that element of familiarity — is important,” Laird said. “But it’s also bringing professionals in for that one-shot moment that provides the catalyst of inspiration.”

He recalled a previous visit by illustrator Nick Meglin, a former editor of Mad magazine: “He and a student just spontaneously sat down on the floor of the gallery — Nick was in his 70s at the time — and he was giving the kid a drawing lesson.”

Meglin died in 2018, but, Laird said, “I’ll always carry that memory with me, and so will that student.”

“Some student will get that tomorrow,” Laird went on. “They will say, ‘This is the conversation that I’ve been waiting my whole life to have.’ I’ve seen it time and time again; I guarantee it will happen this weekend. There will be somebody who will be inspired by these interactions.”

Though state appropriations support classroom arts instruction at NCSSM, private funding adds unique value to the student experience. For instance, arts endowments provide funding for artists in residence and special projects such as the student voter photography project, “Amplify! Youth Voices and the Future,” coordinated by NCSSM instructor Liz Peeples in cooperation with the City of Durham. Also during this current year, endowment funds have paid for a guest composer / conductor to work with the wind ensemble and for the purchase of new classical guitars and a high-quality violin. Last year, such funds purchased internet-connected electric pianos that facilitate remote instruction and enabling students at multiple locations to join in synchronous performance. All these investments, which vastly enrich the student experience, were made possible by proceeds from the Joe Liles Fine Arts Endowment and the Aldrich Music Endowment within the NCSSM Foundation.

“I remember the days when we didn’t have these endowments,” Laird commented, adding that he knows the benefactors well and was involved in conversations that set established the funds. “So I take my stewardship of this funding really seriously. I feel we should honor the people who developed these endowments by taking the potential energy they’ve stored in the endowments and turning it into kinetic energy year after year when we decide how those proceeds are going to benefit and inspire young people.”