"Erik Dahlager is one of those people who seem to be able to do anything he sets his mind to, and do it well." Local artist John Furches has high praise for fellow artist Dahlager, who works part-time at the Furches Gallery and has accompanied the Furches' to several art shows around the Southeast.
While working to make a living as an artist, Erik Dahlager has become known around the Elkin community by several other names: KidsFest planner, IMAGES show curator, Fourth Friday music coordinator, and Foothills Arts Council president.
Born in Detroit, Dahlager moved to New Mexico when he was five years old. At age thirteen he entered his first photography contest and ended up winning a national award. By 15 he had his own darkroom. After enrolling in the University of New Mexico as a business major, a guidance counselor used Dahlager's love of art (and lack of math skills) to steer him into the school's strong photography program. Dahlager relocated to Winston-Salem in 1990.
The first time he visited Elkin (in 1995) he immediately thought, "Huh, this could be a cool little artsy town." A self-described "country boy," Erik started to put down roots here in Elkin in 2000. Since then he has been developing his unique brand of artwork, a process know as gumoil photography.
"Part of my strategy as an artist is to create an art scene in my own hometown," says Erik. This strategy is more than just talk for the accomplished photographer.
Three years ago Erik walked into the Foothills Arts Council and met Rosy Beverley. Through Beverley's encouragement Erik chaired the annual IMAGES photography juried exhibit at the FAC.
In 2006 Erik helped launch the first KidsFest, a children's festival that has become an annual event. And last fall Erik, Denise Lyon, and Bill Colvard hatched a plan for Fourth Friday, the monthly Downtown Elkin event for which Erik books local bands to perform.
"I think Erik Dahlager was born with the positive human relations skills that many companies spend millions of dollars to develop in their employees," Harry Seay, KidsFest co-director said. "His positive outlook on life, ability to inspire others and build a successful team shines through on any project he tackles."
As Foothills Arts Council president for the 2007-2008 fiscal years, Dahlager brought positivity to every endeavor.
"His year as president of the Arts Council was a total joy. I never hesitate to get involved in any project that Erik is in on. Because no matter how much work it is, I know it's going to be fun," says FAC Program Director Bill Colvard. Erik's girlfriend Denise Lyon reiterates and adds to these accolades. "Erik epitomizes the artist's spirit. To him, art is essential and he's found a way to bring it into his community."
"He is almost single-handedly creating a music scene in Elkin while preserving the art of darkroom photography for future generations," Colvard adds. "For that future generation he has also created, arguably, the biggest and best children's festival in North Carolina, KidsFest." Erik's plans for the future involve continuing his work with KidsFest, Fourth Friday, and the Foothills Arts Council. He also hopes to open a photography studio, gallery and educational darkroom on his land in Wilkes County.
"When it comes to supporting the arts," Dahlager said, "it starts at home."