The Bryan Cultural Series strives to inspire, educate and challenge through presentations of the visual, literary and performing arts.
By Kip Tabb
The Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Series is celebrating it’s 5th Anniversary, and although Don and Catharine have passed away, the vision they had of celebrating the creative spirit is very much alive in 2018.
Don Bryan was a complex and fascinating man—a veteran who served for 31 years, retiring from the Air Force as a Colonel. He was mayor of Nags Head from 1978 into the 1990s, sitting on a number of regional planning boards. And he was a remarkably talented artist who seemed to understand that the human experience is intricate and wondrous and can be expressed in many ways.
“His (Don’s) vision was that it was all-encompassing, not that it was just a piece of art or a painting,” board member Dianne Denny said.
"Don and Kay wanted to bring more art experience to the Outer Banks and wanted to do almost anything that increased opportunities to experience art,” founding board member and current Vice President Bob Muller said.
Don passed away in November of 2013, but he was able to see his vision come to fruition. In that first year he introduced two speakers that identified the Bryan Cultural Services as something important and different on the Outer Banks.
In April of that year he introduced Clay Jenkinson in a performance as Thomas Jefferson and later in 2013, he introduced Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough, who came to the Outer Banks to discuss his upcoming biography of the Wright Brothers.
The Bryan Cultural Series came about because Don Bryan was a determined man who planned on how to accomplish his goals—and how to find the right people to get him there.
Denny, who at the time was the Executor Director at Spring Arbor where Don and Catharine were staying, tells how she was recruited to join the board.
“I was at Spring Arbor, and he came in and asked me to be on the board. I think he just really wanted me to give him a ride back and forth,” she adds, although she has remained on the board since its inception.
Perhaps one of the most significant steps Don took was to work with Freddy Hutchins on how to create the organization.
Hutchins, who died in 2014, was the founder of Outer Banks CPA firm Hutchins, Canning & Company and was widely respected for his financial skills.
“It was his (Hutchins’) vision that it would not be a lot of events, but what the event brought was top notch,” Muller recalled. “It was not always traditional things but some of it made people think.”
Board President John Tucker remembers being recruited by Hutchins.
“Freddy called me out of the blue and he wanted me to help raise money. I was always interested in the arts. We started brainstorming where this was going. Then when we started brainstorming the first program, that’s when I really became involved,” he said.
It was also Hutchins who, according to Muller, brought the concept of the Bryan Cultural Series mission statement into being.
“Freddy had the vision to inspire, educate and challenge,” he said.
That vision seems to have been fulfilled over the years.
It was after that first year that Muller realized what was happening was truly exceptional.
“I think the quality of the programs hit me when I saw the first Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts,”he said. “There were two historians interspersed in that first 90 minutes and both been to the Outer Banks in the past years, McCullough and Jenkins. There was probably no other place in the country that had those historians speaking in the same area.”
The range of what has been brought to the Outer Banks is remarkable in scope.
In addition to Jenkins and McCullough who have have appeared twice, Ryan Clemens, a descendent of author Mark Twain—Samuel Clemens—performed his Whiskey with Twain in 2016, a funny, thought-provoking evening of theater.
The Cultural Series brought the Surf and Sounds Chamber Music Series to audiences, a wonderful series of classical music played in indoor and outdoor venues. The series will be returning this August.
“I think the most ambitious thing we’ve done…have been the two Gilbert and Sullivan productions we’ve done,” Tucker said. Performing The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore, the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Theater brought New York theater quality to the Outer Banks stage.
There have also been art shows, and dance recitals and
“What I like about the organization is that it’s eclectic…all tied into the mission statement,” Tucker said, adding. “Looking back on it from the early days, I don’t think I ever thought that we would have arrived five years later and have accomplished as much as we have.”