Chattooga County, Georgia, One of Eight Rural Communities Recognized by ArtPlace

The garden and studio of American folk artist Howard Finster in Appalachian Georgia will be restored and transformed into a destination for tourists and focus of pride for local residents, thanks in part to a $445,000 grant from ArtPlace announced today.

Paradise Garden, as the site was dubbed in 1975 by Esquire Magazine, is an outdoor art installation that celebrates the inventions of mankind and consists of a series of miniature mountains made of cement and encrusted with thousands of found objects.  The High Museum of Art declared that Paradise Garden is Finster’s ultimate work.  Yet the site has suffered from neglect for many years, as has the neighboring community, one of the poorest in Georgia with a per capita income of under $20,000. The restoration project, spearheaded by the Chattooga County Commissioner, aims to rejuvenate Paradise Garden and make it a destination for cultural tourists and an anchor of the local economy.

Paradise Garden is one of eight rural arts projects receiving grants from ArtPlace. To date, ArtPlace has raised almost $50 million to work alongside federal and local governments to transform communities through strategic investments in the arts.

“Across the country, our communities are using the arts to help shape their social, physical, and economic characters,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “In rural settings, where people live far apart from one another, the arts can offer an opportunity to come together and share a common experience.  It is wonderful that ArtPlace and its funders have recognized this work and invested in it so generously.”

Other rural communities receiving the nod include Cumberland, Kentucky; Eastport, Maine; and Sauk County, Wisconsin. In Minot, North Dakota, an ArtPlace grant will support the creation of a mixed-use arts facility that will help the town recover from a devastating 2011 flood by bringing new vibrancy to the city’s historic downtown.

The small town of Sitka, Alaska (population 8,892) will also receive a significant grant ($350,000) to turn a closed college campus into an arts destination for the Southeast Alaska region. Built in 1878, Sheldon Jackson College is a National Historic Landmark. The college closed in 2007, and was recently gifted to Alaska Arts Southeast to build on their long-running Fine Arts Camp. The revitalized site will offer diverse art programs year-round including a visual arts gallery, Circus Camp, several artist residencies and the Sitka Summer Music Festival. Local officials see the Sitka Arts Campus as a more enlightened way to improve the region’s economy than job-creation investments under consideration like logging and large-scale tourism.

For decades, rural communities in the U.S. have seen steep declines in population as the next generation of youth follows employment to larger metropolitan areas. For these small towns and counties, there is a deep need to attract and retain talent – and art often “punches above its weight” when it comes to making places more vibrant so that people want to stay, says Carol Coletta of ArtPlace.

“Creative placemaking isn’t just for cities,” explained Coletta.  “These rural arts projects demonstrate that smart investments in art, design and culture as part of a larger portfolio of revitalization strategies can change the trajectory of communities and increase economic opportunities for people, whether the setting is rural or urban.”

Participating foundations include Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, The Robina Foundation, The William Penn Foundation and an anonymous donor. In addition to the NEA, federal partners are the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education and Transportation, along with leadership from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council. ArtPlace is also supported by a $12 million loan fund capitalized by six major financial institutions and managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Participating institutions are Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Chase, MetLife and Morgan Stanley.

ArtPlace received almost 2200 letters of inquiry from organizations seeking a portion of the $15.4 million available for grants in this cycle.  Inquiries came from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands.

The full list of grants can be seen here.

PHOTO: Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jessica Wilson.


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