Brian Felster (1963-2011): A friend to the artsWritten by John Dorsey | | email@example.com
How will you be remembered? For any artist, for any person really, there is the question of legacy. It is a question that has been on my mind a lot during the past few days with the sudden passing of Collingwood Arts Center Interim Executive Director Brian K. Felster.
Brian collapsed Oct. 29 while preparing for a Collingwood Arts Center (CAC) event and was taken to Saint V’s, where he was pronounced dead at around 6 p.m. He was 48 years old.
As I sat there in the hospital surrounded by Brian’s friends and family one of my first thoughts was, how would people remember him? Then I answered my own question — they would remember him as a friend to the arts.
I knew Brian before he ever worked at the CAC; we first met at a party where he was surrounded by younger artists, offering humor and encouragement to the next generation. A little while later, in the summer of 2005, Brian left the corporate job he had been working for nearly 20 years to work with artists full time as the CAC program director.
It was in that position that he helped put together countless concerts, art exhibits and community events. It was a position he kept out of love for all arts — at about one-quarter of his former paycheck and at great cost to his own artistic ambitions. In addition to his life as an arts administrator, Brian was a skilled photographer and graphic designer. He set much of that aside while volunteering the bulk of his free time to the CAC.
So great was his love for the arts, that in August 2010, he stepped up to serve as interim executive director. Almost immediately he helped to broaden the scope of what could be accomplished, leading to a number of great events such as the CAC Raceway Park fundraiser, multiple appearances by Grammy Award-winning pianist George Winston, a pair of original plays by high school student Opal S.L. Dunlap, the Zygote in My Fez poetry festival, Thosefellas Teen Summit and a recent show by famed comedian Heywood Banks.
He also worked tirelessly to get the CAC involved with the larger community, promoting the S.T.A.R. Project, a student outreach program created by former executive director Audrey Johnson, which brought local artists into classrooms in many underserved communities.
The future looked bright. In the weeks before his death, Brian brought the CAC together with The One Story Project, a nonprofit student outreach group focused on education through filmmaking.
Less than an hour before his death, we were joking and talking about upcoming events as if it were any other Saturday, and it was — just another day for Brian doing what he loved.
Since his death, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing, but what gets me most is the outpouring of love for this man who touched everyone he met with a chuckle, a smile and a generosity of spirit that won’t soon be forgotten.
I will always remember how he encouraged me and Michael Grover to help keep the CAC open mic going, not because it made money, which it certainly didn’t, but because it was something he felt the community couldn’t afford to lose. Most of all I will remember my friend, always up for a late-night conversation, an off-color joke and for finding and nurturing the next generation of artistic talent.
Originally from Fair Haven, Mich., Brian was born March 4, 1963. He studied at Macomb Community College and Owens Community College. He is survived by the world, as well as his family and friends. Our hearts are a better place because he was in them.
As the arts scene in Toledo mourns his passing, I’ll just say one thing: “Velvet” Felster, you will be missed.
John Dorsey resides in Toledo’s Old West End. His work is widely published and he has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize.