What does Forsyth County’s push for local art look like?

Ben Lacina

Dancers perform at the 2022 North Georgia Indian Dance Festival.(Photo/Ahna Phillips)

(Forsyth County, GA) Art can be created in all sorts of different shapes, sizes, forms, and mediums. Forsyth County art-enthusiasts are pushing to make art, as a witness or participant, abundantly accessible to both children and adults residing here.

One of the main proponents of this goal is the Forsyth County Arts Alliance (FCAA), a philanthropic arts organization started in 2005. With a mission statement saying that, “a vibrant arts culture is vital to a thriving community,” the FCAA has given out over $680,000 in grants and scholarships since its beginning.

This money has been used in a myriad of ways - for local students pursuing arts degrees at nearby universities, the big painted eggs project, pianos donated to local schools, and various other artistic projects around the county.

Painted egg for the big painted eggs project(Photo/FCAA Website)

Bridging the Gap

Ahna Phillips, the executive director of the FCAA, says while Forsyth County is making progress, there is still a considerable gap to fill before the arts are equally accessible for all, particularly in the school system.

"Forsyth County is in the fortunate position that all of our public schools do have visual art and/or music teachers, but the fact that the Forsyth County Arts Alliance regularly receives funds applications from within our public schools shows that there are still needs," said Phillips.

Phillips says students of all socioeconomic backgrounds need to have access to a variety of artistic experiences. One step toward this goal is this year’s construction of the Forsyth County Arts and Learning (FoCAL) Center.

The FoCAL Center serves as a performing arts center for local elementary, middle, and high schools and provides their students with an artistic learning experience in lieu of the more STEM-heavy curriculums that more and more schools are implementing.

Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center performance(Photo/FoCAL Instagram page)

A study from Americans for the Arts found that while students with art education access, especially those of lower socioeconomic status, see multiple benefits - in school attendance, GPAs, SAT scores, dropout rates, and more - art education is becoming less and less of a focus.

That same study found that two thirds of America’s public school teachers felt the arts were getting crowded out of the school day. For example, only 45% of middle schools offer a theater class while 12% offer a dance class. These numbers go down to four percent for theater and three percent for dance in elementary schools.

Helping supplement these lost mediums of learning is one benefit FoCAL Center Director Dawn Phipps says they can provide for Forsyth County students.

“Different people learn in different manners,” said Phipps. “It's good for student learning and student engagement if you're leaning into the ways that they learn.”

Inclusion is a point of emphasis too. With some help from the FCAA, FoCAL runs a program called The Penguin Project which gives students with intellectual disabilities a peer partner to help guide them in the rehearsal process all the way through their own special needs musical.

Actor and peer mentor before their Penguin Project performance of Annie Jr(Photo/Ahna Phillips)

But the scope of the FoCAL Center reaches beyond the school system as the venue is open for event rental and community performances as well. The center’s 2022-2023 inaugural season will feature The Sound of Music, Mamma Mia!, Nutcracker, and Matilda which are all comprised of local performers.

“Community and having a sense of belonging is important for everybody whether you're a child or you're an adult,” said Phipps.

Beyond the Stage

Opportunities to see and be a part of local art are all across the county. For those interested in the visual arts, the Cumming Arts Center has rotating art exhibits, features local artists, and offers classes for children and adults.

Participants showing their watercolor class creations(Photo/Sawnee Association of the Arts Facebook page)

Places like School Street Playhouse, and Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts (FAPA) add even more variety to those who want to go see performances. Altogether, an artistic network is being built right in Forsyth County residents’ backyards.

FAPA founder Leigh Ann Cannady has taught programs to hundreds of students since starting her academy nearly a decade ago. With classes for infants, high school students, and annual adult productions, Cannady says there is a spot for any person of any age at FAPA.

But creating better performers is not the full story for Cannady. Like many of her peers, she wants to give opportunities to her students to build skills that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“The arts offer something so special to kids because it encourages everything from teamwork to independence to communication [to] empathy to leadership,” said Cannady. “I don’t care how many of our kids grow up to be on Broadway, but I do care very much about the kinds of human beings they grow up to be.”

FAPA performance of The Drowsy Chaperone(Photo/FAPA Facebook page)

Seeing Forsyth County change over the last nearly 20 years, Cannady says the importance and emphasis put on local arts has been moving in the right direction. While there is certainly more to come, she believes the community should be proud of its work thus far.

As one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia, Phillips wants the people of Forsyth County to know why they cannot leave art behind.

“The arts provide opportunities for people to connect with their inner selves and with one another, across divides and differences. And doesn’t that sound like something that’s needed now more than ever?” said Phillips.

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Ben Lacina at benjaminclacina@gmail.com

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Ben Lacina's writing experience allows him to tackle a myriad of subjects and stories. His background in science helps him use his writing experience to translate complicated topics into understandable content for a wide audience.

Athens, GA

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