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Sustainable Georgia: Where The Art Is

Communities throughout the state are learning the power of the fine arts. It’s easy to take the real deal for granted until programs disappear from schools and have to re-emerge in sometimes scattered ways.

Fortunately the Georgia Council for the Arts, which helps create and nurture the fine arts throughout the state, has survived the recession and emerged stronger than ever, even taking its message on the road.

The 2013 Governor’s Awards for Arts and Humanities went to 15 winners, honored by Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal  at a recent ceremony featuring a performance by the United Shape Note Singers (a 2013 winner) and a reading by Poet Laureate Judson Mitcham reverberating through the state Capitol. Other winners included South Georgia “fiddler” Frank Maloy, Linda Crowe Chesnut of Athens, The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and Clayton County car dealer/philanthropist Allan Vigil. They all received Georgia landscape photography by Diane Kirkland.

“Last year was strong, but this year incorporated more music, literature, visual arts and dance – it all felt very comprehensive,” says Karen Paty, director of the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA).

Shortly thereafter, the GCA was on the road, bringing that multimedia message to Gainesville. For the next 14 months, a sampling of 28 of the 600-plus works by Georgia artists the GCA has collected, mostly from 1979 to the 1990s, will tour the state. The first stop was at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center. “This show has been two years in the making,” says Paty. “We had this great collection behind our walls, and we wanted to get some of it out.”

In partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development Tourism Division and the Georgia Humanities Council, the GCA has put together a collection that reflects the wow power of its Governor’s Awards reception, with works by such renowned Georgia artists as Benny Andrews, Lucinda Bunnen, Herbert Creecy, Howard Finster, Ruth Laxson and Nellie Mae Rowe.

“We feel collectively that it tells a nice story,” says Paty. “Some of the works are less famous, but we feel they are still beautiful and a part of the story.” The exhibit is accompanied by interpretational text, videos of interviews with four of the artists and a catalog printed in partnership with the Georgia Museum of Art (GMA).

Another collaboration with GMA, the exhibit will include a speaker’s bureau and “Just My Imagination,” a GMA program in which five artists come to the community and provide a hands-on workshop free of charge. “Also, and I’m super excited about this, [Atlanta dance troupe] gloATL and [Atlanta muralist collective] Living Walls are adding a public art component,” says Paty.

“The idea was to send out artwork, but in our RFP, in selecting the nine communities, we asked that in addition to exposure for the art, how can this be a springboard for the role of the arts in your community? What will you do locally? Then we met with Monica Campana [executive director of Living Walls] and Lauri Stallings [gloATL], who have a traveling show; and the two organizations came together underwritten by a grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to provide a mural and dance performance.”

The late Rauschenberg, who studied up the road at the Black Mountain College in Asheville, N.C., would have approved. “The dancers were weaving through the crowd of about 300 people,” says Paty. “One gentleman said it was the best exhibit he had ever attended. Those moments are very gratifying.”

GloATL stayed in town a few days, giving the “Float” performance at the Mount Vernon Ex-ploratory School and Centennial Arts Academy, The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center and at the Gainesville School of Ballet. The show culminated with the unveiling of a mural on the Olympic Tower at the Lake Lanier Olympic venue by Argentine artist Franco Fasoli.

“This was an idealized version of what it could do,” says Paty. “As opposed to a static, traditional gallery experience, we wanted to make it bigger, and make the conversation bigger, using all the various forms of art we can intersect with. I’m thrilled it worked out.”

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