Macon’s 567 Center for Renewal cultivates culture in downtown

lfabian@macon.comNovember 7, 2012 

  • Upcoming classes

    Corks & Canvas — Nov. 16
    Corks & Kool-Aid — Nov. 17
    For more information call the center at 238-6051, visit the website at www.the567.org or e-mail Melissa Macker at melissa@the567.org and Beth Smith at beth@the567.org.

Darlene Murphy and Kellie Jaros haven’t had an art showing since they graduated from Wesleyan College in 2005.

Their collective works, dubbed “Natural Instincts,” are now hanging in the 567 Center for Renewal at 533 Cherry St.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” Murphy said. “We both like to take photographs and do artwork.”

Their photographs and paintings of wild animals and nature scenes will be featured all month in the gallery on the second floor of the old Thorpe’s clothing store next to The Rookery.

In the past few years the old men’s store has emerged as a hub for aspiring artists, musicians and entrepreneurs.

“We’re here to help revitalize downtown through business and the arts,” said Melissa Macker, executive director of the nonprofit that runs the center. “As part of that, we hope people will come and experience the local arts scene and get in touch with their creative side.”

Macker, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., has a master’s degree in public horticulture and envisioned a career directing a botanical gardens. Instead, she runs a cultural nursery where new talent is nurtured by experienced artisans propagating their skills.

While Macker has been cultivating culture in downtown for two years, artist Beth Smith joined the center as program director about two months ago after moving from Orlando, Fla.

Some of Smith’s paintings hang in the windows that used to display men’s suits and shirts.

In her new studio at the rear of the second floor, she’s working on a Winnie the Pooh painting for her new grandchild.

She fosters budding artists in that room where light filters in from the alley off Mulberry Street Lane.

Last week, people gathered Thursday night for the latest $25 Corks & Canvas class.

“The deal is you bring your favorite bottle of wine and sip while you paint,” Macker said.

Kool-Aid & Canvas offers a similar opportunity for children. As word spreads, they hope to offer classes at least three times a month. The fee could change depending on the cost of materials.

A recent grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the program in September.

“Knight believes that the arts are a unique way to bring people together,” said Beverly Blake, executive director of the foundation. “We invest our grant funds in people and projects that will make art every day.”

Blake sees the classes as a way to bring people with common interests together, folks who might not otherwise get acquainted.

It’s Macker’s goal to secure more funding from other sources.

“I’m hoping to expand with more beginner-friendly workshops where people can come in and try something new,” Macker said.

Photography and jewelry-making classes are possible.

Already the multi-purpose gallery hosts small concerts and Stories & Songs events where songwriters share their insights, and BLACK Poets ­holds Grove Speak each month, featuring nationally touring poets and up-and-coming local talent. BLACK Poets stands for Believing Love And Cherishing Knowledge.

Smith is also hoping to lure cutting-edge artists for the monthly showings that debut on First Fridays.

In January, she wants to begin a young artists group catering to high school students whose art classes could fall victim to school budget cuts.

“They run out of money and the first thing they want to do is cut the arts,” Smith said.

She led a similar youth program in Orlando.

When she moved to Warner Robins, Smith said, she was warned about the dangers of going to Macon. She was told repeatedly to avoid downtown at night.

Smith was not deterred. She had been dealing with the often frenetic atmosphere of downtown Orlando’s Church Street area and did not feel threatened in Macon.

“We need to change that community image,” Smith said.

That is also part of Macker’s mission.

“One of our overarching goals here is to give people reason to come downtown and see that it’s safe,” Macker said. “Everything we do here is all-age friendly.”

The 567 Center also rents space for as little as $70 per month. Offices can be rented for about $350 per month.

The building currently houses Valor Candles, a photography and videography business called Perfect Harmony Services, Mo’s Cleaning Service, attorney Jennifer Perlman Moore and the New City Church.

Without a budget for full-time staff, hours are by appointment.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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