The Covington News - - LOCAL -

artists who, in ex­change for the eco­nomic re­sources to pur­sue their craft full time, will also help beau­tify their com­mu­nity and host pub­lic events to draw at­ten­tion to the area.

Ini­tially, the arts in­cu­ba­tor is to con­sist of six homes on Washington Street, pro­vided by landowner and Por­terdale busi­ness owner Ja­son Mad­dox. The homes would be pro­vided to the artists free of charge. The cou­ple is also hop­ing to find a build­ing that could be used as a workspace and/or stu­dio, which would also be pro­vided free of charge.

Though Cov­ing­ton is not an artis­tic hot­bed, Ash­ley Swan said the of­fer of free rent and workspace will be the key to at­tract­ing tal­ented artists to the area. She said Cov­ing­ton is a good set­ting for artists be­cause it’s calm and con­ducive to the artis­tic process while also pro­vid­ing ac­cess to the ameni­ties and in­spi­ra­tion of a large city like At­lanta.

“A lot of artists are ei­ther scrap­ing by, if truly ded­i­cated, or prob­a­bly do­ing work that’s not the most ful­fill­ing to pay the bills,” Ash­ley said. “Of­fer­ing free live/ work space where they’ll be able to com­pletely pur­sue what­ever artis­tic en­deavor they pro­pose to us in ex­change for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, truly for an artist – and we are artists, and have grit­ted our teeth and got­ten through it to pay the elec­tric bill – its near im­pos­si­ble to turn down that op­por­tu­nity when avail­able.”

While the ben­e­fit to the in­di­vid­ual artists is clear, Ash­ley said there’s just as much ben­e­fit for the com­mu­nity. Artists will be cho­sen based in part of what they plan to give back to the Cov­ing­ton com­mu­nity.

For ex­am­ple, a painter could de­sign a larger mu­ral to go on the side of a build­ing, sketch out the mu­ral and then in­vite mem­bers of the com­mu­nity to sign up to pain a sec­tion of the mu­ral. Or a writer could craft a story and give a free, pub­lic dra­matic read­ing. Or a group of artists could cre­ate pieces of art and hold a fes­ti­val, invit­ing lo­cal busi­ness to share booths and gain ex­po­sure. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are many, but the key is that they help Cov­ing­ton, and its res­i­dents and busi­nesses, pros­per.

The Swans are go­ing to form a se­lec­tion com­mit­tee of sev­eral com­mu­nity lead­ers to re­view artist’s ap­pli­ca­tions and pick the ones that they think will pro­vide the great­est ben­e­fit to the county.

Sev­eral par­ties are al­ready in­volved in mak­ing this am­bi­tious re­vi­tal­iza­tion project a re­al­ity, in­clud­ing Cov­ing­ton Mayor Ron­nie John­ston who spokes ef­fu­sively about the project.

“I had the op­por­tu­nity to meet the Swans and lis­ten to their vi­sion for Washington Street, and I have to say I was sim­ply blown away,” John­ston said at Mon­day’s Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil meet­ing. “They’re vi­sion, with our sup­port, will start a process that will shape the phys­i­cal and so­cial char­ac­ter of a neigh­bor­hood, town, city, re­gion and it’s all built around the arts.”

John­ston said there are many ex­am­ples where the arts have led the re­vi­tal­iza­tion process in a city or neigh­bor­hood, and he the arts can do the same thing here. Cov­ing­ton Plan­ning Di­rec­tor Randy Vin­son, who has been in­stru­men­tal in help­ing the Swans make con­nec­tions, agreed about the po­ten­tial of the project.

“It’s a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to shed a new im­age for Washington Street, to cre­ate a new im­age for Wash­ing- ton Street., be­cause, his­tor­i­cally, artists have led th­ese types of move­ments into ar­eas that could be con­sid­ered blighted or not wor­thy of devel­op­ment. Typ­i­cally, artists are the lead­ers in get­ting that trans­for­ma­tion started,” Vin­son said by phone Fri­day.

So far, the city coun­cil has only of­fered its ver­bal sup­port for the project, but if the coun­cil agrees to sign on as a part­ner later, the project could then be el­i­gi­ble for a grant from the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts. Ash­ley said the project can pro­ceed with­out the grant, be­cause of the amount of com­mu­nity sup­port al­ready pledged, but the grant would be a big boost as well.

The next steps are to fix up the build­ings, se­cure a build­ing for workspace and/ or a stu­dio and con­tinue to out­line the pro­gram. The Swans are cur­rently typ­ing up the ap­pli­ca­tion for artists and gar­ner­ing more sup­port. For those in­ter­ested in part­ner­ing with the project, they can email the Swans at crb@new­ton­count­yarts.org.

Coun­cil­woman Hawnethia Wil­liams also urged the cou­ple to speak to res­i­dents, busi­nesses and church of­fi­cials in the cor­ri­dor, so that ev­ery­one is on the same page.

One per­son who is firmly be­hind the project, is the Swan’s boss, Bun­cie Lan­ners, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arts As­so­ci­a­tion in New­ton County.

Lan­ners said both Ash­ley and Peter are tal­ented artists in mul­ti­ple fields, as they’ve both danced pro­fes­sion­ally in bal­let and con­tem­po­rary dance. They also work with singers and Peter went to col­lege on a sax­o­phone schol­ar­ship.

“That shows why they would be in­ter­ested in a project like this,” Lan­ners said. “They know how the arts can re­vi­tal­ize an area.”

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