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8-30-05 Arts Are Important Part of a Community’s “Soul” – Oconee & Newton

Many of us students of Oconee County High School of the 1950’s, credit Mrs. Anna S. Curtis with helping develop an appreciation of the Arts.  She would load up a bus of students to attend plays at the University of Georgia’s Fine Arts Auditorium at the corner of Baldwin and Lumpkin Streets……



August 25, 2005


Arts Are Important Part of a Community’s Core


By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.


As I read the Arts Association article in the August 8, 2005, it brought back many memories of the arts in Oconee County.  Many of us students of Oconee County High School of the 1950’s, credit Mrs. Anna S. Curtis with helping develop an appreciation of the Arts.  She would load up a bus of students to attend plays at the University of Georgia’s Fine Arts Auditorium at the corner of Baldwin and Lumpkin Streets.  We would “dress up” and “experience culture”.  Mrs. Curtis would later lead us in discussions of the plays and the real meaning of some of the expressions we experienced.


Mrs. Curtis also produced many plays, including one-act plays and the Senior Play.  Many of us have photos of those experiences and fond memories.   She helped start a Drama Club and a Thespian organization at OCHS on Mars Hill Road. 



MRS. ANNA CURTIS & Our Town Cast in 1958 at OCHS


The contributions made by Mrs. Anna Curtis to the Cultural Heritage of Oconee County are immeasurable.  http://oconeeteachers.com/index.php




"A Proud and Determined Lady"


Another important step in the promotion of arts in Oconee County came in the early 90’s with the building of the Oconee County Civic Center.  Artists, civic groups, school system, county government and many citizens came forth to help plan and build the Civic Center.   Before that, all performances and annual meetings in Oconee County were held in school cafeterias or out of the county.   Patty Ivy was chair of the citizens advisory committee that met many times over two or three years.


Funds from two SPLOSTS and other sources helped fund the Civic Center.  It has a 500 seat auditorium with continental seating to save the best seats in the center.  Acoustics, lighting, orchestra pit and other features were planned and built to be used by many diverse groups.  It has hosted many band nights, singings, plays, regional meetings and other activities. 


Oconee Elected Officials, Citizen Advisory Committee

Groundbreaking for Civic Enter 6-30-1992


  Completed Oconee Civic Center Fall 1993


Another step in the progress of Oconee Arts came with the founding of OCAF in the late 90’s.  Several folks had the vision and put forth the effort.  Among the early leaders were Jerry Chappelle (Happy Valley Pottery), Bob Marable, Peggy Holcomb and others.   As Chairman of the  County Commission, we met with them and encouraged and supported OCAF.  The group did not want tax money as support.  There were ways to help though.  Initially, the arts group was active with the planning for Heritage Park.  Enthusiasm waned though when the old School Buildings in Watkinsville became available. 


Numerous citizens and local artists have put in much sweat equity in restoring and using those buildings.   It is a source of pride and enjoyment for many area residents.  I have attended and enjoyed many shows, receptions and activities sponsored by OCAF.  It is now a viable organization that has many folks involved.  Former students of the old Watkinsville School experience double enjoyment visiting the old school buildings and viewing art works of the local area.  SEE:  http://www.ocaf.com/


OCAF CENTER On School St, Watkinsville, Georgia -Old High School

8-8-05 Arts Association Growing in Newton County


The Newton Citizen



August 8, 2005


Arts Association’s offerings grow in popularity, scope


By Colin M. Stewart



The Arts Association in Newton County has come a long way in the last few years, and according to the association’s staff, it’s still got a long way to go.

The Newton County Concert Association, as it was known when it began more than 20 years ago, once served as a small organization to bring in a few classical concerts from time to time. Now, said Artistic Director Ric Chiapetta, it has ballooned into serving as the “umbrella arts association” for the entire county.

“I think the whole scope of the Arts Association changed about five years ago, when we became serious about changing our name,” Chiapetta said. “Mainly, what we did was present classical concerts, but some of the programs started to evolve with (Director) Buncie (Lanners) coming on. It started to snowball and has really taken off in the last three or four years.”

Attendance at Arts Association programs and events has steadily increased as Newton County has continued to grow, ….


Lanners said the association has spread its wings, offering up programs that appeal to not only Newton County, but also the rest of the east metro Atlanta area.

“Half of our patrons come from around the counties outside of Newton,” she said. “A significant number are coming from Rockdale, and we’re pulling in people from other surrounding areas. We’ve really become the crossroads for the arts.”


The Arts Association is a nonprofit organization and must rely heavily on grants and donations to keep its offerings available. That means staffers have to work hard at creating a community environment that recognizes the value of the arts.

“What’s the secret? We are a community,” Lanners said. “The businesses and individuals realize that what you get out of a community is what you put in.

“If you look at our budget of $34,000 this year,
it’s significant that a county our size, even with our growth, has a budget that large.

“Our goal is to ... be a half-million-dollar small business. ……. in the last year, corporate donations grew by 35 percent. Last year, the association’s largest corporate donor, General Mills, gave $0,000……


…..“It’s essential for an arts association, if it is going to survive, to have a very broad appeal. You have to reach your entire community,” Chiapetta said. “You can’t be so myopic and say, ‘I’m just going to do these concerts and just reach this certain part of the population.”……

….Among the association’s offerings in that department are its involvement with the Kindermusik program, the Creative Kids Camp, the Youth Strings Orchestra, Strings for Kids, the Oxford Singing Children, the Oxford Youth Singers and the Covington Regional Ballet…

“The hardest part for me now is to create an eclectic enough season to get as broad a range of people as possible into the concerts,” Chiapetta said. “It was much easier when it was just classical concerts.

“If you want to bring a wider spectrum of the community, you have to present country music, pop music, gospel music. ... But you’ve also got to avoid alienating the core base you’ve had for the life of the organization.”

That’s proved to be easier said than done, Chiapetta said.
Classical fans came to see (country music singer) Phil Vassar, and they said, ‘Oh, does it have to be so loud?’” Chiapetta said…….

While Arts Association staff members are ecstatic about seeing more people being drawn to their offerings, one very basic roadblock has stood in the way of the association’s growth: There’s no where to put more audience members.

“We are having more people coming to the concerts now,” Chiapetta said. “……..


“But, there’s only 640 seats at Porter (Memorial Auditorium). Even if you sell every one of those seats for $5, that’s $4,000 in ticket revenue, so the minute I bring in an act like Lou Rawls (who is scheduled to play during this year’s concert series), whose fee far surpasses $5,000 ... I have to understand that’s a concert I’m going to lose money on.”

More room

For the last several years, Porter Memorial Auditorium at Newton High School has been the only place to put on the big shows, but the Arts Association has now outgrown it.

“Last year, we budgeted $0,000 in ticket revenue, and it came out to $0,000,” Lanners said.
Not only is the venue too small, but it’s also in great demand.

“We’ve maxed out Porter Hall in terms of numbers of weekends we can use it,” Lanners said. “Newton High’s hired a new drama teacher that wants to use the stage, and it’s the only facility of its kind in the entire community…

In an effort to leave plenty of room to grow, Lanners and the association’s staff has spearheaded an effort to build a new Civic and Cultural Center.

Newton County voters approved the 2005 SPLOST referendum, they voted for $ million of the expected $5.2 million in collections to go toward building the new facility.

The entire plan will call for $1 million. That means Lanners and her staff are working hard to procure the other $ million through donations and grants.

Plans call for a 50,000-square-foot multiuse facility that would include a 1,500-seat theater, a 500-seat ballroom and additional meeting and exhibit space.
The center would also include rehearsal space for local performance groups that fall under the umbrella of the Arts Association, such as the Covington Regional Ballet and the Oxford Singing Children……….

With “untold ways that it can be used,” the center also will be a gathering place for the community, Lanners said.

In addition to concerts and theater performances, the building would be a perfect location for community groups to meet or for social events such as weddings, she said.

Lanners said that while many counties appropriate funds for an arts project, this will be Newton County’s first financial commitment to the arts.

The facility can be a “public-private partnership” she said, and there should be no worries that it will cause Newton County to lose its small-town charm.

“What we want to do is, we want to be a place where people will want to come here, but we’re not trying to make it the Gwinnett Civic Center,” she said.