by Jana Riley
A steady stream of people are packing themselves into a small gallery at 1129 Broad Street. Inside, the air hums with an excited, palpable energy as groups gather around various displays of art hung on stark white gallery walls. Some people mill about, sampling cheese and beverages, while others relax on benches near the windows. A few outgoing children practice their best silly faces with incoming guests and each other, while their parents connect with old friends and new.
Surrounded by a crowd full of creative energy, Kristi Jilson stands proudly in the middle of it all, soaking in the night. As one of many events orchestrated by the Westobou organization yearly, it is unsurprising that the annual "Seeds" exhibition has become one of the top social events of the season.
Since it's inception in 2007, Westobou has become an artistic influence in the region and is "one to watch" in the ever-evolving cultural landscape of Augusta's River Region. At the helm of the non-profit and backed by an extremely dedicated Board of Directors, Executive Director Kristi Jilson ensures that each event reflects the mission of Westobou: to "build community and inspire cultural change through engaging, creative, and thought-provoking artistic experiences." The Westobou team is the driving force behind some of the hottest art events in the region.
Originally, Westobou was a 10-day festival in the fall, which the team has since whittled down to 5 days, jam-packed with events celebrating five genres: music, visual arts, dance, film, and spoken word.
Transforming downtown Augusta into a cultural and creative destination, the Westobou Festival offers world-class performances against the backdrop of a charming southern city.
From outdoor concerts and movies to indoor exhibitions, shows, and screenings, the festival is a cultural takeover of the city, one which leaves a memorable imprint on its attendees each year.
In the Spring, the organization hosts "Springboard by Westobou," a family-friendly affair at the Augusta Common featuring film screenings, music, family yoga sessions, live art, and a skateboard ramp.
In between Springboard and the Westobou Festival, the Westobou Gallery at 1129 Broad Street maintains the mission of building the community. Hosting six exhibitions each year, the contemporary gallery invites regionally, nationally, and internationally know visual artists to show at the brick-and-mortar fixture in downtown.
"The Morris Museum is a fantastic place that presents the very best of Southern art. The Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art has a long history of celebrating regional works in a nontraditional setting. What I feel Westobou brings to the landscape is this accessible, contemporary, white box, street-side gallery that can host a variety of unique visual arts exhibitions. People come into this space and tell us that they would never expect this sort of gallery in Augusta, that they've only been to places like this in larger, more modern cities," says Jilson.
Celebrating their tenth year in 2017, the board members, trustees, and employees of Westobou continue to cultivate the ever-evolving cultural landscape in Augusta, inviting some of the most talented artists in the region and beyond to assist them in inspiring and engaging the people of the city.
"We are doing as much as we can to be leaders and contemporary trendsetters," Jilson explains. "We want to be on the edge of what is great, and we want to be the organization that leads that charge locally. I think we are doing a great job, and the community is really responding."
Maybe you don't realize you would love ... a pop performance with a symphony, [or] a contemporary ballet show ... But we are here to bring these events to you ... maybe they will be unforgettable.
This family-friendly, two-night event at the Augusta Common each Spring features curated evenings of activities for children and adults including outdoor movie screenings, music, art, and a skate ramp.
The Fall Festival offers dozens of innovative performances, events, and exhibitions representative of the best in art and music.
This annual exhibition, held each December through January at Westobou Gallery, brings local and regional artists to the forefront of Augusta's art conversation.