Vibrant arts scene boosts community pride, speaker tells breakfast gathering

Art for the sake of art is great, but it’s better to anchor the community at the center of creative life, one of Nashville, Tennessee’s arts advocates said at a Macon forum Thursday.

Hosted by the Macon Arts Alliance, the breakfast event at the Douglass Theatre showcased local performing artists, including the Hayiya Dance Theatre and the Heart of Georgia Barbershop Chorus, among others.

Jennifer Cole, executive director of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, spoke about the importance of integrating art with people’s love of their community. Cole said both a strong art scene and a love of community already exist in Macon.

“This doesn’t happen in every community,” Cole said. “Macon has the assets, and now all it needs is momentum.”

Cole, who sits on the cabinet of the mayor of Nashville, used her city in several examples of blending arts into every aspect of a community, such as housing, health, education and transportation, to make a local economy thrive.

Nashville centers its goals on making the arts accessible to all and making neighborhoods secure in their cultural identify.

“From birth to death, arts are for everyone,” Cole said.

An example of Nashville creatively boosting the workforce through art is the odd bike racks placed around the city. Local artists, some who had no experience with public art, were contracted to build usable bike racks with innovative designs. There are 17 in the city that resemble things such as a cut tomato, locks, cornstalks and soundboard sliders.

“Art is a form of infrastructure,” Cole said.

In order to promote a sense of place, Cole said the Metro Nashville Arts Commission avoids plopping art down in locations without a purpose.

Jonathan Harwell-Dye, director of communications for the Macon Arts Alliance, said he hopes the arts will be used in Macon in “full capacity to increase economic and community development and build a better city.”

According to an internal study conducted by the alliance in 2012, it is estimated the Macon arts community generates an economic impact of more than $34 million annually. This includes nearly 907 full-time jobs and more than $1.2 million in local government revenue.

Harwell-Dye said the alliance is gearing up to do another study in 2016 on the economic impact of the arts in participation with Americans For the Arts.

For this new study, he said he hopes the research shows areas to improve on in the arts community in Macon.

“I hope (the 2016 study) identifies assets -- things already successful to build on -- and gaps that need to be filled,” Harwell-Dye said.

In addition to the study, the alliance is developing a Cultural Master Plan for Macon-Bibb County and advancing the Mill Hill arts village and artist residency program. The Mill Hill effort is a plan to revitalize two blocks of the historic Fort Hawkins/Main Street neighborhood in east Macon into a vibrant arts village. The neighborhood, known as Macon’s oldest neighborhood, originally was located next to the Bibb Mill Co.

Cole said the affordable artist residency mirrors similar programs in Nashville that aim to make a connection between art and a city’s place.

Like others who attended the event, Cole wrote a haiku. Although she only stayed in Macon for a day, she saw enough of the city to frame an understanding of where Macon is and where it’s going.

“Historic beauty, modern vibrancy, alive possibility,” Cole said, reading her poem.

Josy Jones, the 23-year-old founder of Chameleon Village Theatre Company which will be holding its premier performance auditions June 25-26 at the 567 Center for Renewal on Cherry Street, proves the possibility in Cole’s haiku.

A local arts advocate herself, Jones wants to build a place to cultivate artists, from writers and actors to painters and singers and dancers, and allow them to step outside of their comfort zone.

“It’s all about taking risks,” Jones said.

To contact writer Conner Wood, call 744-4489.