Arts Clayton celebrates big anniversaries at gala

Photo by Curt Yeomans
Arts Clayton patrons took some time to peruse the organization's Mistletoe Market during a holiday party at the Arts Clayton Gallery on Friday. The party was also a celebration of the gallery's turning 10 this year.

Photo by Curt Yeomans Arts Clayton patrons took some time to peruse the organization's Mistletoe Market during a holiday party at the Arts Clayton Gallery on Friday. The party was also a celebration of the gallery's turning 10 this year.

By Curt Yeomans


For 10 years, the Jonesboro-based Arts Clayton Gallery has been painting the community red -- and green -- and blue.

And, yellow, purple, orange, brown, and black. Technically, it was not the gallery itself that did all of that. It was really all of the artists who have been exhibited in the gallery over the last decade.

Arts Clayton celebrated 10 years of having an arts gallery on Friday, during a holiday party at the facility.

While it served as a 10th anniversary celebration for the gallery, Arts Clayton Executive Director, Linda Summerlin, said it also acted as an entryway into another big, upcoming anniversary for the arts group.

Arts Clayton will turn 25 in 2011, Summerlin said. She said the move towards opening the gallery, and then continuing to operate it for a decade, has played a key role in the group's growth over the years.

"Prior to opening the gallery, we were primarily doing arts education programs," Summerlin said. "It wasn't until the early, to mid-1990's, that we got a real focus on what we needed to do to help improve the community."

Summerlin, who has worked with Arts Clayton in various capacities since 1987, said the Arts Clayton Gallery began out of a need by local arts groups to have facilities to display their artwork. "As an organization, we were maturing, and growing and finding our niche, and we were trying to figure out how we could better serve the community," Summerlin said.

Before the gallery opened, she said, Clayton County had two artist guilds (not including Arts Clayton), while Henry County had one of its own, and another one existed in Fayette County.

"They liked to throw these arts shows from time to time, and they wanted to have juried arts shows, and they called on us a lot to find a venue to do these shows in," Summerlin said.

In 2000, Arts Clayton opened its gallery in a small storefront on McDonough Street, in Jonesboro, across the street from the old Jonesboro train depot, Summerlin said. She said Arts Clayton was able to open the facility largely because, two former state legislators, Bill Lee, and the late Terrell Starr, both of whom represented Clayton County in the Georgia General Assembly at the time, secured state funding for the gallery.

She added that the gallery moved to its present location, at 136 South Main Street, in Jonesboro, in 2003.

Summerlin said the gallery was moved because of a space issue, wherein the old gallery location left Arts Clayton feeling a little cramped. "We just needed space to grow, and we didn't have that at our old location," she said.

While the old location barely had enough space for a small gallery, the current location has space for two gallery show rooms, a small gift shop, a lobby area, and administrative offices. It also houses a yoga studio, Southside Yoga, in a large room in back of the facility.

"It's more than double the size of our old location," Summerlin said.

During the holiday party, on Friday, Arts Clayton supporters, and some of the gallery's past featured artists, said the gallery has been a vital piece of the community, for both local residents and local artists.

"It's been invaluable," said State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood). "It gives artists a venue to display their artwork, and crafts, and it also gives young people an opportunity to be educated in the arts."

Retired Clayton County Public Schools Athletic Director, Bob Brannon, said the gallery has had a unifying effect for the Southern Crescent community, through its exhibits, and by serving as a venue for community gatherings. Brannon said he regularly attends events at the gallery, and does not miss any of its exhibits.

"It brings the community together, and promotes unity in the community by giving people a chance to come out and see what's going on," Brannon said. "I'm an athletics guy, but even I can't deny the arts have an important role to play in our community. If the community loses its love of the arts, or of athletics, then the community is going to fall apart."

One of the gallery's regularly featured artists, Fayetteville-based glass and jewelry artisan, Laura Parham, said she believes the Arts Clayton Gallery is one of the best galleries in the area for artists to work with. Parham said she exhibits her artwork at five galleries across the Southeast, some of which are as far away as Charleston, S.C.

"What I particularly like about this gallery is that the staff is phenomenal," Parham said. "They are very warm, friendly and encouraging, and all of that. This is my favorite gallery to display my work in."

But, Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman, Eldrin Bell, said it has not just been the gallery that has been good to the community. He said the entire Southern Crescent has benefited from Arts Clayton, as a group, because of the emphasis it puts on the arts, both through its arts education programs for children, and through the exhibits at the gallery.

He said the arts play an important role in the health, and strength of the community.

"The culture of the community helps to [build] the character of the community," Bell said. He later added, "arts has a value that is right up there with economic development, education, and faith."