Arts Clayton van program wins national honor

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans


A key component of Arts Clayton's youth education programs has painted and sculpted its way into the national spotlight, according to a member of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioner Sonna Singleton announced on Tuesday that Clayton County, because of its support for Arts Clayton, received an "Honorable Mention" in the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2011 Arts and Culture Award competition. The association is a group that represents county governments across the U.S., and Singleton is the vice-chairperson of the group's Arts and Culture Commission.

The commissioner explained the local arts group received the "Honorable Mention" recognition for its "Art Van in the Schools" program, where Arts Clayton volunteers go to local elementary schools to do art and reading programs with children.

"The National Association of Counties presents this award to counties for their support of the arts programs in their counties," said Singleton, during a county commission meeting.

The award represents years of support commissioners have given to Arts Clayton, dating back to 1986, when former Clayton County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer worked with business and community leaders to help found the group, said Arts Clayton Executive Director Linda Summerlin, on Tuesday.

She said commissioners, many of whom are regular attendees at Arts Clayton events, have remained strong supporters of the local arts group ever since.

"Your support allows us to hire quality certified instructors to sit down with lesson plans, and have the most available tools available, and to follow the state guidelines that will help us present a quality program to the students," Summerlin told the county commission on Tuesday. "Without your support, we could not have done and achieved what we have."

The Art Van program is run by Arts Clayton volunteers, who go to schools, libraries and community outreach organizations that work with children. The volunteers read to children, and lead the youngsters in arts activities. It gets its name from the fact that the volunteers go to these organizations and schools in a white van.

"We are currently serving children in this reading program, in 10 identified after-school programs with the Clayton County school system who are most at-risk, and need our help," said Summerlin earlier this week. She added that Arts Clayton is seeking to extend the program to every elementary school in the county.

Singleton said Erie County, Penn., won the competition for a program it had where art students in the community are tasked with using visual art mediums to create something that represents a word or phrase that is assigned to them. She added that NACo members, from outside the Arts and Culture Commission, judged the competition entries.

"The judges were so excited for this award," Singleton said. "As they were getting the applications in, one of the things they told me [was] they were waiting for Clayton County and Erie County, Penn. They knew that's when they were going to get the best awards to be presented, and from what I've been told, it was so close, by two points, from us actually receiving this award."

On Thursday, she further explained that it is not common to see a county earn an "Honorable Mention" in the competition. She added judges were so impressed with the Art Van program, however, that they decided to recognize both Eerie and Clayton counties.

The commissioner added that, with a plethora of other community programs offered by Arts Clayton, she feels it stands a good chance to earn additional recognition from NACo in next year's competition.

"We're going to win it next year," she said.