By Rob White

October 13, 2015

The afternoon of Tuesday, October 13th saw the first public roundtable designed to garner feedback about the public art master plan. Called the “Creative Economy Roundtable,” this meeting was focused on the current resources present in Athens, both artistic and entrepreneurial, and how those resources can be brought to bear towards the cause of community building through public art.

Present at the meeting were representatives from the UGA faculty, Four Athens, the county commission as well as local artists, makers and business owners. The discussion was held at a popular example of the intersection between business and culture, the home of The Broad Collective, Broad 9A in the Chase Park Warehouses.

Public Art Master planner Todd Bressi opened the discussion with a brief introduction to what public art is all about as well as the role of a creative ecosystem in a local economy and in a town’s cultural identity. He then followed that introduction by asking the question that would inform the remainder of the discussion: What makes Athens great?

Every attendee present carried strong feelings about Athens and expressed what they love about the city as well as what they viewed as the areas of creative and cultural frustration in which the town can improve. The most common beloved factor was the sense of possibility. The relatively low cost of living combined with the vibrant creative landscape allowed Athens to be a place where a single artist or entrepreneur could come and make things happen. To paraphrase one attendee, in Athens someone could pursue their dreams without breaking the bank.

Conversely though, frustration was expressed that while entrepreneurship could find life in Athens, the limitations of the economy made it difficult for those pursuits to grow. Many creative and business-minded individuals end up leaving Athens for the more fruitful economic landscapes or Atlanta or beyond.

No one in attendance seemed to think that these challenges were insurmountable, however. One solution proposed was that members of the Athens community pursue more accessible creative spaces usable by anyone in the community. While such spaces exist presently in one form or another, the opinion shared was that these places often only feel welcoming to certain aspects of the community, particularly those already involved in the established downtown and campus art scene. A better focus on providing such opportunities in a variety of spaces outside of downtown might not only help bring the community together, but foster a future generation of artists who may currently be lacking the tools and support they need to explore their talent.

Discussions like this one are planned during each of Todd and his associate Meridith McKinley’s visits to Athens. Questions were asked and opinions shared, and hopefully by keeping the dialogue ongoing answers and a plan of action will emerge to help Athens build an even more dynamic and inclusive creative economy.

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