Executive director sees 'fresh start' for the Creative Arts Guild

·6 min read

Dec. 4—Though the COVID-19 pandemic made the 2021 fiscal year more about survival than growth, the Creative Arts Guild did endure, and now the nonprofit — which has been part of the Dalton community for nearly six decades — is "ready to be in full swing again," according to its executive director.

Fiscal year 2022, which began July 1 of this year, "is a fresh start," and the Guild wants to hear from patrons about what they want from this community's arts center, Amanda Brown explained during the Guild's annual meeting.

"When I first came here in 2015, we did a deep dive into our community, but our community has changed a lot, so we need to do that again so we're serving you, not our own agenda."

The community has been crucial to the Guild during the pandemic, as the organization closed for two months last spring, costing the nonprofit 20% of its annual revenue, Brown said. On July 1, 2020, the Guild launched a COVID-relief campaign, and by the end of 2020 the Guild had met its goal of raising $75,000.

The Guild also received a $72,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration in January 2021, and "the Guild anticipates that it will meet all requirements for the full forgiveness of the loan," Brown said.

In addition, the Guild received a $15,000 Bridge Grant for fiscal year 2022 from the Georgia Council for the Arts, which is $5,000 more than the Partner grant from that organization the Guild received in fiscal year 2020, and "we're very excited about that."

There's also the Sustaining Partner campaign, launched in fiscal year 2019 to support Guild programs and services through a five-year general operating pledge program, which is "valuable because this allows us to budget" knowing commitments are for five years, she said. Despite the pandemic, "we grew, with six new partners in fiscal year 2021."

The Guild received $368,492 in total contributions in fiscal year 2021, up significantly from fiscal year 2020's $288,276, but also from from the $344,498 in fiscal year 2019, the $280,639 in fiscal year 2018 and the $195,888 in fiscal year 2017.

Brown's stewardship of the Guild has been crucial, especially during the pandemic, said Jennifer Phinney, secretary of the Guild's board: "We're in safe hands."

'An emotional decision'

The Guild used the pandemic-forced "pause" in operations to consider the future, which led to departing the satellite facility the Guild had rented on Cleveland Highway, as the Guild closed the gymnastics program at the end of April, Brown said.

"It was an emotional decision, and not taken lightly, but it streamlined our efforts, (as) we brought dance home, a wonderful process."

It allowed for more "connection" by not splitting the Guild among two locations across town, and "it's awesome to have (dancers) back," she said. It's also "nostalgic" for those who remember dance at the Waugh Street facility before the Guild began renting a second location on Cleveland Highway.

The Guild refurbished the original two dance studios in what had been Jonas Hall, leaving two galleries — instead of three — for artist exhibitions. Renovations included adding soundproofing and insulation in the walls of private music studios, re-carpeting and repainting all music studios and the dance office, and re-carpeting stairwells with carpeting donated by Mohawk Industries.

A new facility?

However, this is "only a temporary solution, (as) we do need additional programmable space, (so) it is time to look at building a new facility on our existing campus to accommodate growth," according to Brown. Preliminary ideas have been discussed, as the Guild examines "What are our needs, and how do we make that happen?"

Creative Circle "is one of my favorite things we've created recently, a support system for artists long in the making," she said. While most meetings so far have been virtual due to the pandemic, Brown hopes for more in-person interactions in fiscal year 2022, and a musicians group is already meeting at the Guild for monthly "jam sessions."

Due to COVID-19, "The Snow Queen" annual ballet recital was moved from November of last year to January and to The Colonnade in Ringgold. In-person seats were limited, but the event was live-streamed. The latest edition of "The Snow Queen" was performed last month at Dalton High School.

This year's Spring for the Arts moved from March to April, and instead of a fashion show at The Farm, it was a brunch at the Guild with a focus on the new additions to the acclaimed Robert T. Webb Sculpture Garden. The annual event, which was not held in 2020 due to COVID-19, is a key fundraiser for Arts in Education.

'A gift all around'

The Guild has invested more in banners downtown and around the community to be more visible, Brown said. That includes drawing attention to the Robert T. Webb Sculpture Garden.

During the past two fiscal years the Guild added 13 new works to the Robert T. Webb Sculpture Garden as part of its 10th anniversary celebration, Brown said.

"We were buying art at a time when people were not moving artwork" due to the pandemic, so "it was a gift all around."

With the new additions, the Guild emphasized "figurative pieces, which were a little lacking" previously, she said. The garden also now boasts a concrete path through the White Magnolia Crescent that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, "providing full and safe access for all to view our collection of works."

"The new sculptures are magnificent, and it's such an impressive collection," said Phinney, who "grew up at the Guild" — her mother was assistant director for a time — and has a "personal" interest in seeing the Guild "thrive and be an integral part of our" community. "They're a wonderful addition to the Guild and our community as a whole."

The entire garden "is beautiful," and with the outdoors prized during the pandemic, "we learned to appreciate (this space) even more," Phinney added. "It's a tremendous asset."

'They learn to talk about art'

The garden, and the Guild in general, host many youth field trips, a concept "getting more and more popular," Brown said. "The whole staff really gets excited when they come here."

"Children won't learn to be in a gallery unless they walk through the doors," Brown added. "They learn to talk about art."

The Low Country Boil "has become a local favorite," Brown said. Even this year, with COVID-19, "we had eight teams compete and 350" attendees.

A "Pops in the Park" in the Burr Performing Arts Park for the Fourth of July had long been a goal for the Guild, and this summer "we did it," Brown said. "It was special to realize that dream, and it was a big undertaking, but there's potential to really grow it more."

Long-term goals the Guild did not achieve in fiscal year 2021 include bringing an artist in residence to the community to help connect the Guild more to downtown and formalizing a public arts commission, Brown said. She hopes to complete both objectives in fiscal year 2022.

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