When Cathryn Zommer moved to Charleston from her hometown of Asheville almost three years ago, one of the first events she attended was Enough Pie's Awakening, a massive group art installation that took over 1600 Meeting. The installation featured works by performance artist John Duckworth, painter Gret Mackintosh, dancer Martha Brim, and many others, and brought in more than 1,000 guests. "I remember very clearly being so excited and grateful to walk into a space like that and see over 30 artists creating these transformative moments throughout the building, and seeing so many people come through and experience the artwork," she says. "I just remember that being a big moment for me — thinking that Charleston is really an incredible place, that I want to lay roots here."
Not only have she and her husband, a Citadel professor, laid roots in Charleston — they purchased a home on James Island, and Zommer is president of her neighborhood association — Zommer is now also laying roots with the very organization that impressed her when she walked into 1600 Meeting that day. In early April, Zommer left her position as director of communications for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival to become Enough Pie's new executive director.
Based in Charleston's upper peninsula, Enough Pie is officially in the business of creative placemaking, a term that generally describes a group's efforts to develop vibrant, welcoming neighborhood public spaces using the arts. In addition to Awakening and other community events, like the recent Valentine's Day Community Love-In party at Revelry Brewing, Enough Pie offers Community Impact Grants. These are small ($1,000 max) grants used to fund arts and culture projects that fit with their mission. One of the latest recipients of a Community Impact Grant was paper artist Kris Westerson. She used the funds to create the Street Pulp project, which invited members of the public to come together to make and decorate paper at two events last fall.
At first Enough Pie faced some challenges integrating into the upper peninsula community. Many of the area's longtime residents and community activists are African-American, and Enough Pie's first board, as well as the crowd that attended their events, was overwhelmingly white. (We covered the organization and its early tendency to overlook the African-American community in a story from August 2013, "Whose Pie Is It Anyway?") Continuing observation has shown that Enough Pie has taken those criticisms to heart: they've since partnered on several programs with the John C. Dart Library — the Charleston County library branch located near their area of focus, which has mainly African-American patrons — as well as community leaders like Ramona LaRoche, who runs the Gullah-Geechee history and arts organization Family Tyes.
Zommer is not ready to discuss her plans for continuing to address the issue of inclusion, but she acknowledges the challenges of placemaking work in general. For one thing, the word "placemaking" itself is not ideal — it's used all over the world, but it can be hard to get a handle on what it actually signifies in real neighborhoods. One of her goals as executive director is clarifying what creative placemaking means. She says, "For me, it's about making public spaces really accessible and joyful and vibrant. And that's what we seek to do."
She also lauds Enough Pie's founder Kate Nevin and outgoing executive director Chris Burgess, whom she says have been extremely involved in Charleston's community at large, as well as the upper peninsula. "We're a young organization, but our hearts are in this," she adds. "This is our community — it belongs to all of us." Despite the inherent challenges of the work, coming to Enough Pie feels something like fate, Zommer says. "Those moments that transform us, that take the daily and make it magical — those are my favorite moments. I feel like Enough Pie really seeks to create those moments. So when I became aware of this position, it really felt like I was moving into my calling."
Throughout her career, Zommer has managed PR campaigns for clients including Bombay Sapphire, Dewar's, and Pernod Ricard. But she's also, perhaps more importantly, an activist and creative.
After attending the University of North Carolina, Zommer moved to New York, where she interned at the Charlie Rose Show. "I helped manage the greenroom, as an intern, so one of the things I would do is be with the guests," she says. "It was an incredible opportunity to not only work with Charlie Rose and his team, but also meet some incredible people." Elizabeth Dole, Steve Martin, and the literary critic Harold Bloom are among those who made an impression on her.
It was that experience that also led her to what became one of the most important influences on her creative life: the experimental, arts-centered educational institute Black Mountain College. While keeping Rose's guests company in the greenroom, she says, "A number of them would ask where my Southern accent was from. I'd tell them I was from Western North Carolina, and they'd say, 'Oh, then you must know about Black Mountain College.'" She didn't. And so Zommer started looking into the college, which operated for only a couple of decades — 1933 to 1957. Through her research she discovered the school had produced some of the most forward-thinking artistic luminaries of the 20th century, like composer John Cage, painters Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.
Zommer became fascinated by the school, so much so that she decided to make a documentary about it. In 2000, she began work on her film, Fully Awake, and completed it in 2007. "I started going around the country interviewing former students and teachers," she says. "These were 80-year-olds who were different from any elders I'd ever encountered. They were actively living a creative vision. Most were not rich, but they had fulfilment and a light and a peace that I was very moved by."
Zommer took the title for her documentary from a quote by one of the college's students, who said that part of the work at the college was "being asked to be fully awake, to be at a new threshold of perception." That idea of being "fully awake" is now a core tenet for her, both personally and professionally, and it's something she sees reflected in Enough Pie's mission. "The fact that I made a film called Fully Awake and the first big event with Enough Pie was called the Awakening was not lost on me," she says. "I felt a very close synergy with our work — it's about participating, showing up."
Nevin felt the same way about Zommer. "Cathryn has been a dedicated advocate for community arts and creative collaboration in so many ways during her years in New York City, Asheville, and Charleston," Nevin said in an email.
Throughout Zommer's three years here, for example, she's revived her neighborhood civic organization, the Cross Creek Civic Club, and become its president. She's learned about and become involved in local city planning issues, particularly the planned high-density Maybank "Gathering Place" development on James Island. Zommer also participates in the dance group Nia Dance, and leads her own dance class for adults — based on the idea that everyone and anyone can dance — every Monday.
In fact, it was through Nia Dance that Zommer met Nevin in the first place. Back in February, Zommer heard about the Community Love-In event and thought it would be great if the Nia Dance ensemble participated. She emailed Nevin, whom she didn't yet know, and suggested the ensemble collaborate with Enough Pie. "Kate absolutely welcomed that idea with open arms, and we collaborated with a silent dance party," Zommer says. Guests were invited to put on headphones and dance together with members of Just Dance. "So we're all dancing there in front of the [Revelry] brewery, and Kate puts on her headphones and just starts dancing," Zommer says. "It takes courage and a willingness to just let go and be part of the energy and community to do that. When I saw that, I felt such a connection with her."
The connection continued when the two met during Zommer's interview process. "In Cathryn, the board of directors sees a visionary leader in community arts engagement, and we look forward to working with her," Nevin says.
In addition to Zommer, Enough Pie is bringing in Rachel Parris, a College of Charleston-educated historic preservationist who is moving back to Charleston from Denver, Colo. Parris will act as the director of development and community relations, rounding out the two-person staff. She's well-versed in the team- and partnership-based approach that Enough Pie takes in its work. "I've spent the last four years in Denver working to rehabilitate some of [Colorado's] most threatened and endangered properties," she says — everything from historic private mansions to historically significant buildings like a World War II Japanese internment center. "There are a lot of collaborations and partnerships that go into those types of projects. I'm thrilled to come to Enough Pie with this background in collaboration. I think we make an exceptionally strong team."
As for what direction this new team wants to take Enough Pie in, Zommer isn't quite ready to make any big pronouncements. She's very clear on one point, however: the organization's mission — to use the arts as a vehicle to make the upper peninsula a more inclusive and inspiring community — is already right on point. "The core tenets of Enough Pie are really strong," she says. "We have a really good vision and mission. So I'm not interested in coming in and shaking things up for the sake of shaking things up, and putting my own stamp on them. My goal is to simply identify some areas that we can take further."