By Rob White

In the midst of the excitement over what possibilities Athens’ public art master plan may bring, it’s important to remember that the plan isn’t just about building something new. The public art master plan is also an effort to find ways to better utilize and spread awareness and appreciation for existing public art, galleries and historic cultural landmarks.

To discuss that goal, Todd Bressi and the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission invited local community leaders, government officials, artists and business owners to explore the idea of Athens having its very own Art Walk.

An art walk is a path created throughout a city or park with the purpose of guiding tourists as well as local explorers through a trail of local landmarks and artwork. Sometimes this is accomplished by distinctive visible markers in or along the sidewalk, like Asheville’s Urban Trail. Other times this can be accomplished by a simple map or even a mobile phone app directing you along the tour.

Todd and ACAC commission member Holly Alderman spoke about benchmarking towns Athens could look to as positive models of how an art walk works. Examples discussed include Suwannee’s SculpTour and Macon’s Art in the Park as well as the Art Walk in Columbus and the above mentioned Asheville Urban Trail. If done with care, an art walk can serve the dual purpose of fostering attention and affection for local resources while providing a space for local and national artists to display their work. Suwanee’s SculpTour even acts as a curated space for temporary art installations, during which city funds may be used to purchase popular pieces for permanent display.

Athens certainly has the landmarks and the cultural resources, both within and outside of downtown, to make such a project worthwhile. While it will be some time until specifics are decided upon, areas of particular interest include The Morton Theatre, Lyndon House Arts Center and The Classic Center. Such a walk would also bring attention and additional traffic to the businesses along the way, providing even more incentive to turn the idea into reality.

The concept of an Athens Art Walk was recently included in Athens-Clarke County’s Downtown Master Plan, and the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission hopes to help follow through on that recommendation.  (See the Transportation Enhancements section of the Downtown Master Plan here.)

By developing ideas like this one with the help of the community, local residents, students and tourists may be able to discover new assets in Athens as well as rediscover the familiar, connecting with our town along the way.

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