We find this rewarding and we’re still doing it because we think the arts are important. It takes so many people who aren’t creative and who aren’t out front to make things come together,” Donna McClung Camp said.
The other part of the “we” is her husband, Joe. If you’re involved with Azalea City Arts, it’s likely you’ve seen this enthusiastic and gracious pair of volunteers over the years giving the most valuable asset any of us has: time.
Joe defers to his wife — “She’s the eloquent member of the duo.” The husband part of me says that makes him the wise member of the duo.
Their nomination for the Art Soldier category in the 2018 Arty Awards surprised almost no one. As infantry goes, they’ve worn through enough boots for several folks in the last 30 years.
The Oakleigh duo began their march when neighbors Tom Mason and Suzanne Cleveland pulled them into the orbit of the late Fred Baldwin. An old firehouse — now law offices on Lawrence Street — was readied for a different purpose back then.
“Fred wanted to put together a theater to produce original plays by Southern playwrights. It probably lasted four or five years, maybe, and they did Shakespeare in Washington Square, too. That’s pretty much the way we got started volunteering in the arts community. Everything grew out of that,” Donna Camp said.
A cascade followed. They got involved in Mobile Theatre Guild and the Historic Mobile Homes Tour as board members and ushers. Joe was onstage in a non-dancing role for Mobile Ballet while Donna ushered.
Joe served as general manager for Symphony Concerts of Mobile, predecessor to Mobile Symphony Orchestra. Donna ushered and supplied general labor for the offices. She also was instrumental in Mobile Arts Council fundraising.
Both have lent their efforts to Mobile Botanical Gardens, Murray House, First Light Marathon, Historic Mobile Preservation Society and the History Museum of Mobile. They’ve shown an eagerness to pitch in behind the scenes, at ground level on up, unconcerned with acclaim or attention.
Humble priorities are revealed in other ways. The Camps donate money to The University of Alabama’s College of Arts and Sciences, just enough to earn invites to a donor appreciation dinner at The Battle House.
“You can tell how much money people give by where they’re seated and we’re always in the back with the performers, so they consider those to be less-desirable seats. But the people up front only get to see the performers for five minutes while we have dinner with them, so we think getting to know the performers and the artists and the creators is one of the real perks of volunteering,” Donna said.
Their fellow Art Soldier nominees are local DJ and producer Kalenski Adams and Joe Jefferson Playhouse general manager Jason McKenzie. The award winner will be revealed when the Arty Awards get underway Jan. 18, 6 p.m., at The Steeple (251 St. Francis St.).
The nominee list:
Arts Educator: Stephen French, Lydia Host, Chris Paragone
Business: Callaghan’s, Kazoola, The Steeple
Cultural Innovation: Lynn Henderson Oldshue, Charlana Quiovers, Cathe Steele
Design: Julia Greer Fobes, Stephen McNair, Patricia Richardson
Literary Artist: Emily Blejwas, Frye Gaillard, Chris “Champ” Napier
Organization: Alabama Contemporary Art Center, Comedy Whatever, Crescent Theater
Performing Artist: Robert Holm, Alvin King, Lynn Mackie
Visual Artist: Sean Herman, Vincent Lawson, Labarron Lewis
Callaghan’s owner John Thompson will receive the Patron Award. Mobile potter Charles Smith, a former winner of the Artist award, will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Each winner receives a limited-edition work of art by April Livingston.
Advance tickets cost $35 until Jan. 12 and include food, two drink tickets and live jazz by John Milham, Chris Spies and Chris Severin. After Jan. 12, tickets cost $45.
A couple of hours for recognition isn’t a squeeze for the inspirational Camps. Though they appear busy, they claim it’s no strain.
“It’s not a lot of hours monthly. My shifts at the museum are only three and a half hours but I spent two full days decorating the front of the symphony office for Christmas. When they need me I show up,” Donna said.
The rewards for them are obvious.
“For me, it’s the contacts I make and my disbelief when I hear people say there’s nothing to do in Mobile. Once you start volunteering you find there’s all kinds of opportunities not just to volunteer but to attend things and to open your eyes and to broaden your horizons,” Donna said.