Arts village in east Macon receives $134,000 grant

The Macon Arts Alliance has received a $134,370 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to establish an artists-in-residency program for the Mill Hill neighborhood.

Mill Hill, a conceptualized arts-based community in the Fort Hawkins neighborhood, is expected to house local and national artists who would be hired to create art alongside current residents in the neighborhood.

The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, which is partnering with the alliance, has acquired three homes for renovation, but the goal is to acquire 12 or 14 more homes to create Mill Hill.

Community partners gathered Wednesday morning at the Old Bibb Mill Auditorium on Clinton Street, which eventually will be turned into a community center as part of the arts community, for the grant announcement and a tour of the four blocks of targeted revitalization.

“This is a win-win for east Macon,” said Karen Middleton, a member of the Mill Hill Steering Committee and director of the Family Investment Center.

Jonathan Harwell-Dye, director of communications at the Macon Arts Alliance, pointed out the three houses on Schell Avenue and Hydrolia Street that will be a part of the first phase of renovations for the artist residency program.

With the help of Roving Listeners, a project that documents the talents of Fort Hawkins residents, collaboration among everyone in the neighborhood hopefully will be spurred, Harwell-Dye said.

The hope is for residents and artists to decide how the public spaces should be used without defining their functions beforehand, he said. Mill Hill ideally would act as a catalyst for revitalization of the whole neighborhood, he said.

According to the most recent Macon Action Plan, 46 percent of the Fort Hawkins neighborhood -- which spans from Emery Highway down Coliseum Drive over to the Ocmulgee National Monument and the area where the Bibb Mill once stood -- is unoccupied.

Another goal of the program is to reduce blight.

For the past nine months, developments for the residency program have been ongoing, Harwell-Dye said, and now is the right time.

“We found more collaboration than we ever imagined was possible, so we think that in a way this was something that was meant to happen,” Harwell-Dye said. “It’s been an incredibly positive experience. We’ve found support everywhere we went.”

Kay Gerhardt, a member of the Urban Development Authority, said the project’s partners have joined together to increase the impact of the arts village.

“This project will really show the benefit of having many different groups come together to work for a common goal,” she said.

Once their work is done in Mill Hill, other organizations and people will get the confidence to sow more seeds of growth, she said.

“That’s our dream,” Gerhardt said.

The Macon Arts Alliance was one of 69 organizations nationwide to be selected for the NEA Our Town grant, which supports community transformation with the arts at the core.

“The NEA’s Our Town awards are some of its most competitive and ambitious,” Jan Beeland, executive director of Macon Arts Alliance, said in a statement. “This is only the beginning of what we believe will be the next great neighborhood revitalization story in Macon.”

Oscar Brown and Clint Marshall are two members of New Beginning Baptist Church and will be helping with the renovations of the future residency houses.

They both agreed the neighborhood development is a huge step forward for Macon-Bibb.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to bring a great community back together and just beautify it. That’s the best thing about going into communities that are somewhat down and bringing them back up,” Marshall said.

For more information about the upcoming revitalization and the East Macon Arts Village, call the Macon Arts Alliance at 478-743-6940.

To contact writer Conner Wood, call 744-4489.