+ By Christine Fillat + Photos by Nicole Caracia
Nicole Caracia is a tour de force. She is vice president and artistic director of the Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC) in Brooklyn Park, where she has worked for 10 years. She is also a professional photographer. Her web page is a portfolio of rock and roll concert footage, brides and grooms in marital swoons, and dreamy landscapes in faraway places. Always pushing herself to create excellent images, she is known to drive to Assateague Island in the dead of night with other enthusiastic photographers to capture images of the Milky Way. Sometimes, she takes her two young daughters on shoots.
As CAC vice president and artistic director, Caracia oversees all of the Center’s arts programs, organizes their larger events, helps the CAC team with day-to-day operations, and looks for organizations to collaborate with to bring more art to the community. She teaches photography to elementary school students, middle school students, and teachers.
For an explanation of how she accommodates both of her endeavors, Caracia describes a day in her life that’s equal parts inspiration and insanity. “I have a passion for going out exploring,” she says. “My husband and I went out to San Diego in April. The day before we left, the CAC had a big fundraising golf tournament that I’m part of planning and doing. That Wednesday, I’m up at 5:30 in the morning, go to Compass Pointe Golf Course, preparing for the day of this amazing golf tournament. We get this tournament done, it’s a long day, I leave Compass Pointe Golf Course, drive to the Anthem in DC ’cause I have to shoot Kaleo, a band from Iceland. I photograph all that, get home at, like, midnight, start editing some photos. I have a six o’clock [a.m.] flight, so I have to be at the airport, so literally I’m hopping off to the airport with no sleep. I get to California, and I’m shooting from sunrise to sunset, and I have not slept in, like, 20-some hours because I have work to do, I have editing to do, and I’m in a new place. So, I want to explore. The sunrise is coming up, the surfers are out. I want to be out and about, and my husband looks at me and he’s like, ‘I don’t know how you’re still going!’”
Her verve is inspired by her father, Charles Parsons, Jr., who took an 11-year-old Caracia to her first concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion to see Live, Counting Crows, and Fastball. They went to numerous shows together, including Warped Tour, Ozzfest, and HFStival. They also took in the local music scene, going to see such bands as Good Charlotte, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, and Jepetto.
By age 15, Caracia was helping to book bands, sell merchandise, and photograph performances at places such as Woods Memorial Church, St. Andrews by the Bay, and the Thunderdome. She worked at Record and Tape Traders for many years, managing the stores in Catonsville, Annapolis, and Rehoboth. She also worked in the marketing departments for record label Sony BMG and for Rams Head.
Ten years ago, Caracia came to the CAC for a part-time marketing position. She was also given the responsibility of running the Center’s art gallery. Caracia had never run a gallery before, but that didn’t seem to be a problem; now, CAC has two galleries and a hallway exhibition space that are fully booked until July 2023.
Seeing the different artists who were coming through CAC inspired Caracia to do more. “It was so vibrant that I wanted to continue to push myself,” she says. “The energy that they gave, I wanted to give back. It was just something that naturally grew.” As she was marketing and running the gallery for the first four to five years, she got more involved in program ideas. “There was a void that needed to be filled,” she explains. “That then led me to the artistic director position, and I only became vice president this past July.”
CAC is Caracia’s second home. “I would say it is your home to be creative in,” she says. “It gave me a shot to become an artist, it gave me a shot to grow as a person, it gave me a place to be artistic and be able to think outside the box.”
Caracia was not always a professional photographer. The previous director of CAC, Belinda Fraley Huesman (2012–2020), encouraged Caracia to pursue her interest in photography. That led to an intense self-education that included learning everything she could about shooting and traipsing about the countryside with other like-minded individuals, looking for photographic inspiration. She photographed the stars in the night sky, the natural beauty of Maryland, and the various landforms of Iceland. Photographing live music seemed to be a natural progression from Caracia’s early years of music promotion.
Last year, Caracia sent a message out into the universe that she wanted to do more live concert photography. She had been shooting for I.M.P. (a Washington, DC–based independent concert promotion and production company) for about five years as a house photographer. In a cosmic reply, she got hired in January 2022 to be a photographer for Live Nation, a worldwide entertainment company. “My portfolio is growing,” Caracia muses, “my networking is growing. I’m growing as an artist . . . my work is being shown more, which I appreciate.” Musicians are using her images on albums and books. When previously she was loath to turn down a photography job, nowadays she chooses which performances she covers.
“My job as artistic director is to see, overall, what comes into the Center and what the community needs, . . . also be an advocate as an artist, for the artist,” she says. “It’s giving artists jobs, it’s giving artists opportunities, it’s getting the community to be exposed to something that is so beautiful, and art, especially in this time, is such a healing power for what we’ve gone through. Art is around you in every way.” █