By Greg Gelpi
Until five years ago, local artists had few places to display their artwork.
Forest Park artist Cathy Brown hung her pastel landscapes in area businesses and restaurants, but she and other local artists and art enthusiasts gathered Tuesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Arts Clayton Gallery, their new home to hang their work.
"There were no opportunities south of Interstate 285," Brown said. "It's been needed for so long."
Although Arts Clayton formed in 1986, it wasn't until February 2000 that the art organization established a gallery to exhibit artwork.
John Webb of Stockbridge said that he and his family had no choice but to visit the High Museum and other metro Atlanta art galleries previously.
Tuesday, Arts Clayton also celebrated its grand opening of its new location on Main Street in Jonesboro.
Assistant Curator Pete Hughie said the building housing the gallery had been many businesses from a garage to law offices to a vacant building, but he never imagined the facilities would "look this great."
And Georgia Council for the Arts Executive Director Susan Weiner agreed, calling it "fabulous."
"The arts have proven over and over again city after city in Georgia that they are an economic engine," Weiner said, adding that the gallery is "exactly what Jonesboro needs."
The Arts Clayton Board of Directors "realized we need a face to the community," Executive Director Linda Summerlin said.
Once Arts Clayton collected the money for the gallery, "it just seemed to happen," she said.
Arts Clayton began as an organization of artists in Clayton, Fayette and Henry counties, but has since expanded to cover 11 counties, including 13 artist coalitions and 1,000 artists.
As Arts Clayton grew, so did the demand for art classes, which fostered and developed more artists, Summerlin said.
"We were just bursting at the seams when this opportunity came along," Summerlin said.
Arts Clayton came from nothing, but an idea, and continues to grow, Clayton County Chief Superior Court Judge Stephen Boswell, said.
"It's grown from nothing into what you see - literally," he said.
Boswell, who served as the first president of the Arts Clayton Board of Directors, said that "ultimately" a dedicated arts or cultural center is in the future for Arts Clayton.
"That's a dream of all of us," he said.
Through the efforts of volunteers, staff members, contributors and civic leaders, Arts Clayton has developed into what it is today, Boswell said.
"Art is literally good business," Boswell said. "Not only is it beautiful to look at, but it has profound impact economically."
Clayton County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer, one of the original board members, said Arts Clayton formed after a study found the perception from outside Clayton County was that the county wasn't "arts-minded" and in fact was a "little bit backwards."
"I think the gallery was a serious step in the right direction," Rhodenizer said, adding that there are "ongoing discussions" about an arts or cultural center.
At Tuesday's juried art show, Robin Lilies received best in show, while Kris Adams won first place, Tom Wilkins won second, Kimbo Daniel won third and Betsy Edmonds was honorable mention.
Mary Rogers received the Gallery Award, and Rosalind Webb received the Arts Clayton Award.