By Laura McAlister
Their friendships have lasted decades, and though their backgrounds differ, one thing is the same – they all share a love for the arts.
Mountain Brook residents Garland Smith, Lyndra Daniel and Lisa Paden Gaines have known each other for years. During that time they’ve watched the arts scene in the Over the Mountain and Birmingham area grow, in part because of people like them.
The three women are staunch supporters of the arts in the Birmingham area. They’ve helped found artistic organizations and brought new life to old artistic venues. They’ve been active players in growing the arts scene from just a few theaters and museums to a thriving art community.
The decision to help build the Birmingham arts scene was easy for women like these. Lyndra, a singer with the Junior League of Birmingham Chorus, summed it up.
“Really, I love all arts,” she said. “It’s an expression of the best of mankind. Art is really man at his best.”
Lyndra moved to Birmingham from Louisiana about 36 years ago.
She was working as an executive assistant for an antiques company when she was sent to Birmingham to showcase some antique prints at Bromberg’s. During her stay in Birmingham, she met Bill Daniel, who’s now her husband.
Her parents had always encouraged her interest in the arts. They took her to plays and ballets.
“I actually thought I wanted to be a ballerina,” she said, laughing. “That didn’t work out.”
She has had a big impact on the arts in Birmingham, though.
After moving to Birmingham, she was quickly convinced to volunteer with the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Since singing was her passion – she majored in singing in college – Lyndra also got involved with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. She joined what was at the time the Junior Women of the Symphony.
“Four years later, I was chairman of the symphony’s Decorator’s ShowHouse,” she said.
Lyndra also served on the State Council of the Arts board and was key in forming the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham.
Though her work in the arts has been constant since she moved to Birmingham nearly four decades ago, she said her proudest moment has been helping establish a comprehensive arts calendar through the Cultural Alliance with the creation of birmingham365.org.
“I think that was one of our most important achievements,” she said. “It gives people the opportunity to see everything available in the arts, especially those coming from out of town.”
Garland has been a part of the Birmingham area arts scene since she was a child.
It was then that her parents would take her to Birmingham from their hometown of Camden to see plays and ballets. She was immediately hooked.
“It was really just in my blood to begin with,” she said. “My parents encouraged it. They would take me to the Town and Gown Theatre. We’d go to ballets and concerts.”
The Town and Gown Theatre is now the Virginia Samford Theatre; Garland serves on its board.
When it comes to the arts, Garland said she believes it’s important to preserve the past as well as encourage the future. She’s doing both.
“My love is not only arts, but it’s also historic preservation,” she said.
She’s served on the Alabama Department of Archives and History board and was a founding board member of the McWane Science Center.
“They do a great job of training teachers,” Garland said of McWane, “and they make science and art fun. (Children) don’t realize they’re learning.”
Throughout the years, Garland has served and continues to serve on several boards of arts and history organizations including McWane, the Birmingham History Center and the Alabama Ballet.
Garland said she’s always amazed to see new art organizations entering the Birmingham area, but she also loves that the older ones remain strong.
She mentioned the Birmingham Music Club, one of the oldest, if not the oldest presenting group in the state.
“It’s just been great to see the diversity and new groups coming in,” she said. “That’s been huge, but then we have clubs like the Birmingham Music Club that’s been here more than 100 years.”
Lisa Paden Gaines
Lisa has to look no further than the Virginia Samford Theatre to recall when her lifelong love and support of the arts began.
After all, it was at the Southside theater where her career as an actor started when she was just 15 years old.
“I was raised here,” she said, referring to the Virginia Samford Theatre, which will celebrate its 10-year anniversary after major renovations this month. “It was here that I got hooked on theater.”
The Virginia Samford Theatre, where she remains active today, is where she met her husband, Rad, and discovered her love not just for theater but for the arts in general.
“I’ve met some of the coolest people,” she said of her involvement in the Birmingham arts scene. “I’ve made great friends. It’s really just a bonding experience.”
One person she’ll never forget, nor will most supporters of the Virginia Samford Theatre, is the late James F. Hatcher. He was director of the theater for many years.
“Like most girls, I was into ballet,” she said. “I studied with Hatcher, and he needed dancers for the production of ‘Kismet.'”
Lisa was one of six cast for the production of the musical. The experience gave her a lifelong attachment to the theatre and the start of her career in the arts.
She went on to study ballet at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. At the time, the school didn’t even have a campus. Thanks to Hatcher, the school used the Virginia Samford Theatre.
Lisa later went to the University of Alabama in a new program where she studied theatre and dance. The program took her to New York and beyond, but in the end, she was back in Birmingham working with mentor Hatcher at the Virginia Samford Theatre.
Though she hasn’t performed in two years, Lisa isn’t retired, and she’s certainly still active in the arts scene. In addition to her work with the Virginia Samford Theatre, she’s also involved with the Red Mountain Theatre Company, the Alabama School of Fine Arts and the NALL Foundation, to name a few.