By Curt Yeomans
A quarter of a century of arts programs in the Southern Crescent all began with a local resident asking, "Where are the arts in Clayton County?" in the mid-1980's.
That question, posed by local arts patron, Anne McCranie, in a Clayton News Daily article, got local business leaders to begin establishing a local arts council, named Arts Clayton, in 1986, according to Linda Summerlin, the group's current executive director.
Summerlin said the "founding fathers" were McCranie; former Clayton County commissioner, Carl Rhodenizer; former Clayton News Daily publisher, Jim Wood; retired Clayton County Superior Court Judge, Stephen E. Boswell, and Clayton County resident, Larry Foster.
On Friday, the group kicked off its year-long, 25th anniversary celebration with a reception for the opening of a new exhibit, featuring winning artwork from past Arts Clayton juried shows.
"This is the opening reception for our January show," Summerlin told a group of 50 guests at the reception. "It is also the beginning of our year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Arts Clayton. Twenty-five years ago, a group of business leaders came together, and had a vision to create an arts council, and they did so, from a business and economic development perspective."
Throughout this year, Arts Clayton will take time at several of its events to celebrate the anniversary of its founding, said Arts Clayton Gallery Manager Karen Powers. She said the arts group will do something to commemorate the anniversary at its annual Arte Gras fund-raising event in March, and during a traveling exhibit on loan from the Georgia Museum of Art, in August and September.
Powers said the current exhibit of past juried show winners includes more than 50 pieces of work that won first, second, third or honorable mention awards during juried competitions held between 2003, and 2010. It will remain on display until Jan. 28, at the Arts Clayton Gallery, which is located at 136 South Main Street, in Jonesboro.
"It's great to see all of these award-winning pieces together," Powers said. "Also, it gives the artist's work a chance to be shown again."
Since Arts Clayton was founded, it has grown to operate its own art gallery, an annual arts summer camp, and education outreach programs at area schools and libraries. Arts Clayton's birthday comes on the heels of another celebration for the organization. In 2010, the group celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of its gallery in Jonesboro.
During the reception on Friday, several Arts Clayton leaders, volunteers and regular exhibiting artists said the group has proven to be a consistent high point for Clayton County, and the entire Southern Crescent. Although it is based in Clayton County, Arts Clayton's programs are open to residents from outside the county as well.
"Arts Clayton is a gem for this county -- something we ought to be very proud of, and that we ought to take to the national stage," former state Rep. Mike Glanton told guests at the reception, on Friday.
Arts Clayton Board of Directors Member JoAnn Maples, the music teacher at J.W. Arnold Elementary School, in Jonesboro, said the arts organization has done more for the community than just promote the visual arts. Maples, who is the state elementary chairperson-elect for the Georgia Music Educators Association, said the group has promoted performing arts as well.
"It has been important to the community, because it has served to unify all the artistic efforts in the community, whether they were from visual artists, or performing artists, into one effort," Maples said.
As part of Arts Clayton's annual Kaleidoscope summer arts camp, children get to take a performing arts class, such as singing, or dancing, in addition to taking a visual arts class. Maples said one of the first events Arts Clayton held was, in fact, a performing arts event. It was a concert, featuring a doo-wop group, at a golf course in Jonesboro, she said.
Arts Clayton Second Vice President Myrna White, and Arts Clayton Board of Directors Member Donna Parker, said one of the significant memories they have is when the group moved into its current gallery location, on Main Street, in Jonesboro, approximately five years ago. It had previously been located in a one-room facility on McDonough Street.
"It's been great to get to see the number of artists, and their exhibits," Parker said. "It's been great for the artists to have a place to share their work, that is as well taken care of as this one is ... It's gone from a one-room school, to an entire school building."
White added that "moving into this gallery has been a highlight for me. This building is magnificent." White is also the director of public affairs for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is one of Arts Clayton's "annual signature partners."
McDonough artist, Karen Casciani, said Arts Clayton, and its gallery, have been a vital resource to local artists, because it has served as a artistic hub for them. Casciani said her water color paintings have been put on exhibit at the gallery more than 100 times since it opened. Two of her paintings have won awards in juried art competitions there.
"It's really been the meeting place for us," Casciani said. "It's just given us a beautiful place to exhibit our work, and that's been important, because we don't have much of that in Henry county, yet ... I've made a lot of friends here, between the other artists, the people coming to see our work. It's a great experience for an artist."