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Paradise Garden located in Chattooga County, Georgia is the site of transformed cast off objects into a place that lends itself into being the masterpiece of folk art legend, Howard Finster. Howard was a fixture of Chattooga County not only did he pastor churches there but he also repaired most bicycles in that county as well. He repaired bikes until one day he had a vision on his finger to stop everything and paint sacred images for god. He did just that, he started painting and created a celebration of traditional craft and unique display of a communities cast away objects. Not only did Howard Finster paint over 46,000 pieces of art he also became one of the most famous self taught artists of the 20th century inspiring an entire world of artists. Many artists inspired by the visionary preacher turned artist were locals of the area in the early days of Paradise Garden being created. The board of the Paradise Garden foundation is working to stabilize and revive the site that had fallen into disrepair since the death of the artist. Many of the board members knew Howard and we good friends.

Recently we talked with Fran Myers, one of the Board Members of the Paradise Garden Foundation in Chattooga County. Fran a local artist in Chattooga County, herself, with a group of local artists had helped create Finster Fest back in 1992, which is now a treasured Art and Music festival in Chattooga County. Fran like all the other board members of the Paradise Garden Foundation have been working tirelessly this past year to encourage a creative placemaking Initiative around the treasured folk art masterpiece Paradise Garden.

ARTPLACE: Can you explain the unique art culture of Chattooga County?

MYERS: I think the art culture here in Chattooga County and the surrounding area comes out of traditions that have taken themselves into a creative twist. There are many people here who are artists, self-taught artists that have made their own form of art with some base of handed down tradition. The isolation of the area really has allowed for many of the artists to develop their own skills.

ARTPLACE: What creative placemaking activities do you see ongoing in Chattooga County?

MYERS: I have been a supporter of the arts in Chattooga County for quite some time. Chattooga County in my opinion has always been rich in creativity. Much of which I feel comes from its isolation. Arts are like a cottage industry but rather all done in the cottages tucked throughout our mountains and ridges all creating arts with their own twist. The individuality and resourcefulness of the people here seem to unique expressions in art. What we have been able to do with Paradise Garden is help connect the artists. Help build self esteem. Help be a glue that binds an art community with something that is driving the tourist who appreciates the talents here.

ARTPLACE: You mentioned Paradise Garden Being the glue that binds how do you foresee Paradise Garden working to be that glue that binds?

MYERS: What the work of this foundation is able to do is help create pride in a community. Paradise Garden is a destination that people locally are really starting to have ownership with. With the positive message and celebration that the place has to our small community it is no wonder that art appreciation locally is starting to build.
Having Paradise Garden as a place that gives a great visitor experience will encourage people coming to paradise garden to seek out other live artists local artists.

ArtPlace: What is the biggest struggle in supporting local art assets?

MYERS: Continuing local buy in. We have tremendous support from many people in the community but we have to continue to build on that. Also, out of the isolation of this rural area the local artists for the most part find it difficult to understand that what they are creating is a real art. I think what the Paradise Garden Foundation is able to do is continue the education of the local artists here and help them be educated on different techniques mediums that they would not have had a chance to experience otherwise. Chattooga County is very rural and even the closest movie theatre is 25 miles away. Paradise Garden helps bring in the world of art to our local artists and students that they would not of had the chance to experience otherwise.

ARTPLACE: You have been involved with Finster Fest from its beginnings, which seem to still be an ongoing community celebration. What will Finster Fest be to the arts community this year?

MYERS: Finster fest is something that the foundation is able to do this year to celebrate our arts like no other. For the first time Summerville will have a live Concert with headlining performers and also a park of celebrated artists and local artists showing true community vibrancy. This June 8th and 9th will be a time to Celebrate all the many accomplishments that the Foundation has made in reviving what to us here is almost Paradise.

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