Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Arts Clayton officials and artists, last week, went to the state Capitol in Atlanta, to visit Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife, Sandra.
This week, Sandra Deal came to Jonesboro, to visit the Arts Clayton Gallery.
Georgia's first lady visited the 10-year-old gallery on Wednesday for an invitation-only morning tea event with several prominent women, including many who are involved in Arts Clayton, and others who hold prominent positions in Clayton County. Arts Clayton Executive Director Linda Summerlin said she had worked on getting Sandra Deal to visit the gallery, through work being done with the governor's office.
Summerlin said she decided it would be a good idea to make the visit into a sneak peak of the gallery's new exhibit, "Prints by Women: Selected European and American Works from the Georgia Museum of Art," which opens to the public on Friday.
"It seemed like the wheels really were put in motion [to make the visit happen] when we realized this exhibit would be up, and nobody would have seen it yet [because] it wouldn't be open to the public, [and] that it would be a perfect time for her to come," Summerlin said.
But, Deal's visit also carried an underlying meaning, because her husband named the gallery as his "Georgia's Gallery of Choice" for his current term in office earlier this year. The gallery is providing artwork from its collection of exhibiting artists, to be put on display in Deal's offices at the state Capitol, until at least the end of 2014.
Despite that tie to the governor's office, however, Summerlin said Sandra Deal's visit may have been a rare occurrence for the gallery.
"She could [visit the gallery again], but this is a big state and there are lots of people that want visits from the first lady, and [not] all of them get them," the Arts Clayton executive director said.
Krystal Pate, the president of the Arts Clayton Board of Directors, called the visit "another milestone" for the group, along with the "Georgia's Gallery of Choice" designation. "I think it was very noteworthy that she took the time, to look at every piece of art [in the gallery]," Pate said, noting that Deal examined the pieces in the new exhibit in detail with the gallery's curator, Donna Parker.
For her part, Deal said "I hope I can come again" when asked if another visit to the gallery may be in the future. She also noted the gallery building's history as a former gas station and car garage, and praised Arts Clayton officials for converting it to something different for the local community.
"I am glad to support the arts," she said. "I feel like they are important to our society, and it's a pleasure to see that they have worked so hard down here to turn this old car garage into a facility that could house the arts, which shows creativity, and usefulness for old things ... I enjoy the art, and I appreciated the fact that they were willing to allow Nathan to choose art for the office at the capitol."
Several current and former Arts Clayton officials said the tea served as a showcase of the level of community support the group receives in Clayton County.
The list of prominent, local attendees included Clayton County Commissioner Gail Hambrick, Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley, Jonesboro City Councilperson Pat Sebo and Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford.
"It's incredible to have her [Sandra Deal] here, and to have her see this incredible facility, and the support that Arts Clayton receives in the community," said former Arts Clayton Gallery Manager Karen Powers, who organized exhibits for the gallery for five years, until earlier this year.
Several attendees said they were pleased to have an opportunity to play host to Deal in Jonesboro, and talk about art with her.
"We had a wonderful conversation, especially regarding [how] she loved the arts, and she loved to sing, and being a former teacher, [how] she would sing with her children," said JoAnn Maples, the music teacher at J.W. Arnold Elementary School, and Arts Clayton Board of Directors member. "She's very much a proponent of music and the arts."
Donna Jackson the principal of James A. Jackson Elementary School, which has its own school of the arts program, added that Sandra Deal's visit, along with Gov. Deal's recognition of the gallery, is "a positive promotion of the arts in our community." Jackson added that "to get that support from the governor's office, for the arts, is very important for us."
Pat Sebo said Sandra Deal's visit was "quite an honor for the city of Jonesboro," but added that the city long had the "honor to have Arts Clayton here on Main Street." She said the first lady's visit was an added pleasure.
"It was so gracious of her [to visit the gallery], and it was an honor to be in her house [the Capitol], so to speak, and then for her to come down and visit our little house," Sebo said. "It's really an honor for us to have the governor support the arts here,..."
The Arts Clayton Gallery is located at 136 South Main Street, in Jonesboro. Call (770)473-5410 for more information about its exhibits and programs.