A year ago, history was made in McDuffie County with the inception of the county's arts council.
"September is our first year, so it's an exciting time because you get to come up with your best ideas and nothing is boring yet," Chairman Marion Ivey said.
The McDuffie Arts Council was busy their first year pursuing their mission: to promote the artistic resources of the McDuffie County area by providing venues that encourage and promote education, public awareness, participation and appreciation of the arts.
"We've definitely created awareness," Mr. Ivey said. "And the appreciation is something that you have to mold and help people understand. But the awareness is the first step to the appreciation. And, I think we've definitely done that."
Just over two months after their first organized meeting, the council participated in the Festival Off Main in downtown Thomson. A few months later, they were one of the few nonfood vendors invited to participate in the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival. At the end of May, they held their own festival, Arts in the Alley, as part of the Grassroots Arts program.
Held on Journal Street in Thomson, Arts in the Alley featured local artists' wares, art-themed activities for children, dance performances, musical concerts and poetry readings.
"A year ago, I would have no idea we would be promoting performance art," Mr. Ivey said. "Before, we were just a group of visual artists. We had to expand and amend our by-laws to allow performance and literary artists to join."
Not only is the public becoming educated, but the exposure has helped the artists pick up clients, buyers and students, Mr. Ivey said.
"There's just so many little things that happened to the individuals," he added.
Member Charlene Montgomery, an art teacher, was able to pick up additional students, as well as become a resident teacher at a gallery in Harlem.
Fantasy artist Robert Schifield, was honored by Norris Elementary School students, after a teacher found his colored drawings of dragons online and had students write stories to accompany them. The students visited a MAC meeting and read their stories aloud, and Mr. Schifield donated the accompanying picture to them.
Another member, photographer Louisa Hickman, was encouraged by the council to put her pictures in an exhibit, where she won a best of show award. Later, she was a winner in a Ducks Unlimited online contest.
"Louisa is a good example of what the group has accomplished," Mr. Ivey said. "She was kind of a closet photographer, and has always been a good one. But she would have never even thought of putting her stuff out to be viewed. She was more of a generous soul, taking pictures and giving them away."
Mr. Ivey said photographer Betty Parker is another example.
"Betty is the same way. She never thought of showing anyone her photography except her friends, and now she's been published in a couple of magazines, and she represents the arts council on the Convention and Visitors Bureau."
The council sponsored a jazz concert last month in the Monroe Kimbrell Gardens at the Watson-Brown Foundation in Thomson. They plan to do another concert there in the fall.
"It's not going to be a jazz show, but it'll be of a different nature," Mr. Ivey said. "One of our goals as a council is to expose the underexposed artists, so this will be another local group. We just have to find a date when there's no Georgia game to conflict with it."
The council currently has 38 members that include artists, business partners and support patrons. The next monthly meeting is at 7 tonight at the McDuffie Museum on Main Street in Thomson. Artists are encouraged to bring their new art to share with the group. Plans for the upcoming concert will be discussed. For more information, visit www.mcduffieartscouncil.org or call (706) 699-1804.