Palmer relishing new role with CAGB

Published 10:46 pm Saturday, September 6, 2008

Buddy Palmer doesn’t consider himself an old man, and no matter what his age, he may never do so.

That’s the beauty of his passion and his profession.

Palmer, 51, a Selma native and recently named Executive Director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham, believes in the power of a painting, a sculpture or a work of drama to transform a person and everyone around him.

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“The arts help transform individuals and communities,” Palmer said. “For the individual, they build self esteem and teamwork skills. For communities, they strengthen quality of life, they give proactive activities for kids and adults. Economic development, education, tourism — there’s so much that the arts can contribute to.”

The Tulane graduate started working in community theater in New Orleans and continued that work when he moved back home.

He was one of the founding members of Encore! in Selma, and one of the theater’s first productions in the early 1980s was “The Women.”

Palmer’s one regret is that as a full-time administrator, he doesn’t get to act as much as he used to.

He was executive director of the Acadiana Arts Council in Lafayette, La., for 13 years before going to Birmingham. The agency covered an eight-parish region.

Prior to that, he held the same title at the Selma-Dallas County Arts Council from 1990-94.

He is finding in Birmingham that he has to grow into an organization that is itself still growing.

“I have not worked in a community as large as Birmingham before, so there are a lot of cultural institutions that are very large and that have a lengthy history in the community,” Palmer said. “The organization that I’m working with is just 4-years-old. So for me this is about finding what the role of our organization should be and could be for the community and really creating a blueprint for the future.

“Our role is to help provide an infrastructure for the total cultural community.”

While with the Acadiana Arts Council, Palmer oversaw a budget that grew from less than a quarter million dollars to $1.2 million.

Part of the big picture he sees in Birmingham is helping the city’s arts scene with funding, technical assistance, marketing, cultural tourism, economic development and cultural diversity.

The CAGB serves a 12-county region and prides itself on providing consistent coordination and leadership for the arts and cultural sector.

Palmer hopes to increase the organization’s influence, but that can only come by strengthening “the building block of the individual.”

“In the same way that some kids might find themselves through sports and some kids might find themselves through academics, others find themselves in the arts,” Palmer said. “You’re never too old to find yourself. We’re all big kids inside. I think through the individual, then you build neighborhoods and neighborhoods build communities. So it’s all about the building blocks.”