October 6, 2011 |

Arts council's Heywood wins governor's award for advocacy

Haines Arts Council president Tom Heywood has won the 2011 Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities for arts advocacy.

Charlotte Fox, executive director of the Alaska Council on the Arts, said the award is aimed at those who devote themselves to of the arts, often without pay or formal recognition "Tom has been doing this wonderful job for so many years, and is appreciated by his colleagues at other councils around the state."

Heywood and a half-dozen Alaskans winning awards in other categories will be toasted at a banquet in Anchorage later this month.

"We are just thrilled that he got the award. It is so richly deserved," said Anne Hanssen, the group’s vice-president.

"Tom doesn’t just bring amazing talent to town," Hanssen said. "He brings programs to the school, he partners with other organizations like the fair and Lynn Canal Community Players and the Fourth of July and he really goes after memberships and sponsorships. Hardly ever does a performance pay for itself, so those are essential."

Heywood’s hands-on style might include finding and booking acts, meeting the ferry, making a fish chowder for a visiting artist and locating appropriate lodging, Hanssen said. "He does it all as a volunteer. It’s amazing."

A soft-spoken former Haines schoolteacher who operates the town’s bookstore, Heywood has headed the local council 12 years. In an interview this week he said he first realized the potency of live music at an outdoor Beatles concert in the mid-1960s. "Seeing people go wild over music. That was an excitement I picked up."

A guitarist and fiddler who used to play to his elementary students, Heywood became involved with the council 16 years ago after attending a poorly promoted performance by folksinger Tom May. Heywood and Dr. Len Feldman were the only two audience members to show up.

"Len and I thought, ‘Let’s get on it and see what we can do,’" Heywood recalled. Feldman launched a coffeehouse-style open mic night that resonated with local artists and residents just wanting an inexpensive Saturday night out. Heywood took the group’s reins and brought organization skills as well as aggressive scouting of acts.

Council memberships have grown in recent years, Hanssen said. Shows during Heywood’s tenure have ranged from an annual winter showcase of local musicians and writers to ones by internationally acclaimed acts including The Hahn Trio and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

"People like coming to Haines (to perform)," Hanssen said. "Part of it is that it’s Haines, but a large part of it is how Tom makes everyone feel at home and how well he organizes things."

Heywood this week said every town has a person like him, who organizes shows, and that he’s getting the attention only because he was nominated. Many other volunteers here help with lodging, food and transportation, he said. "There are so many things that have to come together."

Heywood keeps posters of some of the estimated 125 performances the group has hosted since he became involved, and enjoys keeping tabs on the careers of artists who’ve performed here.

He explained his longevity in the group’s leadership role. "One reason is, I just love live music. I want to have live music and entertainment of various types always coming through town."

Plus, he said, volunteering is a given in a small town, so it’s just a matter of finding your niche. "I have to do something. Why not this? It’s something I like and, thank God, it keeps me out of local politics."