Charles Evered, screenwriter and local resident, aims to bring artist residency for veterans to the Peninsula.
Evered, moved to Williamsburg in June. Now, he's working on plans to build a small waterfront artist residency in Mathews County, dedicated to those who serve.
By Christin Nielsen
The year was 1999. At thirty-four years old, Charles Evered's career as a screenwriter and film director had already taken off. He was writing a script for an action film about an aircraft carrier commissioned by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Pictures, and the payout was big.
As part of an information-gathering process for the film, Evered made a routine trip down to San Diego. He recalls pulling up in a limousine along with his producers to interview a group of Navy sailors – and feeling immediately out of place.
"The limo, (the producer’s idea), was embarrassing on so many levels because first of all, you're there to talk to kids that are making like 18 grand a year living on a ship," Evered told The Triangle.
After distancing himself from the limo as quickly as possible, Evered proceeded to the ship.
The next few hours would change the trajectory of the rest of his life.
"I started just exploring this huge ship with 6,000 kids on it, interviewing them about their life," Evered said. "And the guy who was giving me a tour - his name was Stephen Fisch, and he was a Navy reservist - after about an hour said, 'Hey, have you ever considered joining the reserves?'"
Evered was taken aback by the question. ‘No,’ he answered flatly.
Evered had come from a military family: his father, Charles J. Evered, served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. Still, he never imagined he would embark on any kind of military career himself.
But as the weeks progressed and Evered became more immersed in writing the script, the idea of joining the military increasingly piqued his interest.
"I became more and more curious," said Evered. "And then I made a couple of inquiries, and they had what they call this direct commission program, which was a program specifically for people who had a lot of life experience and might have a degree."
With an impressive resume that included a Master of Fine Arts from Yale, Evered qualified for the program. So he took the leap and enlisted in the Navy reserves, spending one weekend a month at Point Mugu north of L.A – all the while continuing to move forward with his Hollywood career.
The new opportunity seemed exciting at first. But Evered soon realized that he wouldn’t actually be starting off as an officer. The entry-level role as an “Enlisted Person” - or E-2 - was nothing like he envisioned.
"I would wear that little cap and wear those little bell bottoms, and I was thirty-four years old, and I was picking up cigarette butts," Evered said. "And at first I was like, 'This is my worst nightmare.'"
Fortunately, the role slowly evolved. Within a year and a half, Evered was made an officer, starting as an Ensign (ENS). That’s when he came to a stark realization: The military was transforming his life – for the better.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Literally,” he said.
"I found humility. I found focus. I found people that I would never have met in Hollywood or academia. True diversity, meaning people that were all different colors, shapes, rich, poor... we all had to live together."
Evered says the experience was ultimately a blessing. While continuing to work his way up the ranks in the military, he accepted a teaching job at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.
Then 9/11 happened. His unit was in New York City.
"I went back [to New York City] a few days after the attacks, and that affected me obviously, as it did the whole world. Being in the military while being in Hollywood was a real shakeup for me because these two cultures sadly had nothing in common."
That culture shock was something that had a permanent impact on Evered.
“Those two worlds should be more in communication and not be so opposite,” he said.
In May of 2017, Evered decided to address the stark disparities between the two realms he cared so deeply about: the creative arts and the military. He founded the Evered House, an artist residency that provides a space for creativity for those who serve.
The concept was simple. Those approved by the program – typically military members or veterans, conflict writers, combat photographs or first responders – would be able to stay at the residency for free for anywhere between a few days to a month. The goal was to allow the artists to work in a peaceful, quiet and supportive environment away from home, where their creativity would be fostered. Artists could also receive honorariums for food and travel.
Evered says the organization - dedicated to his father, Charles J. Evered - is the endeavor of three generations. His adult children, Margaret and John, have also supported the house in various ways, he says.
The house was originally built in Flamingo Heights, California. But while the initiative found success there, Evered says he soon began facing numerous barriers. Crime started to worsen in the area, and taxes on the house grew increasingly unaffordable.
That’s when he found Williamsburg, a place he says they “fell in love” with.
After moving to the area in June, they’re now focused on simultaneously relocating the Evered House to nearby Mathews County. Evered says his realtor, Tim Daniel, was able to find an affordable property for the house to be built on Morse Point Road in Port Haywood.
"It's just a little more than an acre, waterfront and very beautiful," said Evered.
While he has only been living in the Historic Triangle for a few months, he has already found the area to be welcoming.
"I'm already so impressed with how supportive people in Virginia have been and how military-friendly people are," Evered said.
When Evered isn’t preoccupied with his day job as a writer and director, he’s devoting much of his time to wading through the land development process for the new Evered House. He’s now in talks with Bayside Joinery, a local building and design firm, to begin construction on a small cottage near the water.
Evered expects to have his hands full with the project over the coming year. He's currently dealing with the Sanitation, Planning and Zoning and Building Departments in Mathews County and will be in communications with the Army Corps of Engineers to navigate wetland delineations and determine where the house can and cannot be built.
"Once all the permitting is done, we’ll finalize drawn plans and get the building permit from the Building Department. From there, hopefully, and fingers crossed, we’ll be off to the races," Evered said. "My hope is to open the new place Fall 2025, but I also understand delays happen."
Meanwhile, the Evered House continues to be an active nonprofit organization and supports artists who serve through grant awards. This coming year, the program will be giving out three $1,000 grants. The first grant was awarded to Shaniyah Bernabela, a filmmaker and member of the Army National Guard who recently graduated from Rutgers University.
The second grant will be awarded this coming January, and a third will be given out in June of 2022, Evered says. The organization is also planning to hand out its first "Evered House Award" in March of 2022 to an individual who has supported the military and service communities throughout the U.S.
The program is currently in need of support, volunteers and donations. They're especially looking for volunteers who can help get the property ready for the build by raking leaves and clearing away debris. The organization also recently launched a fundraising initiative called the 200 Campaign, where the goal is to sign up 200 people to give $10 per month.
Evered says that even though that fundraising effort is modest, it will bring in enough funds to cover most of the house’s annual taxes if it’s successful. When the pandemic is better controlled, Evered also hopes to be able to offer events, like readings and presentations of artists.
"We're on a journey developing this land. It will take a year to do that, and you can imagine just the bureaucracy," said Evered.
"We really just want people to get to know us, check out the website, and if they're in a position to give us, you know, $10 a month, that's huge for us. That's a big deal. And that's what we're trying to do: just get out to the community and say, 'Hey, we exist, we've done a good job for four years on the other coast, and we feel like we could do it here.'"
To learn more about the Evered House, visit EveredHouse.org.
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