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ART BEAT: Artists highlight triumphs of 2010, hopes for new year

Gwinnett arts organizations have made plenty of news in 2010, but 2011 could be a lot better. A quick series of interviews with several visual and theater artists active in Gwinnett show a great deal of pride, energy and hope for the future. They also offer some very good suggestions for how to better support the arts and create awareness for them.

Ann-Carol Pence of the Aurora Theatre is very proud of how the Aurora has been accepted by the Atlanta theater community. Not only did the Aurora win three Suzis at the recent Suzi Awards for Atlanta theater, it was also named by Atlanta’s Creative Loafing newspaper as the 2010 Best Theatre Company in Atlanta.

“We were up 422 season tickets for the season and 170 more mini season tickets have been sold as of today. Our corporate donors have increased their partnerships,” Pence said.

Funding is a subject that runs through all conversations.

“I would like to see county funding for the arts,” Pence said. “The county commission needs to set a good example. County funding also shows importance. The county builds a sports stadium, and we know sports are a priority. Lawrenceville committed to building the Aurora Theatre, so we know they have a commitment to the arts. We’d like to see that type of support (from the county.)”

One other wish for the Aurora: obtaining a lighted, programmable LED marquee.

“We have so many events that need promoting. A light-up marquee would really highlight the over 300 events we produce each year,” Pence said.

In the visual arts, two Gwinnett artists had plenty of thoughts to share. Rosemary Benavides Williams had some good practical suggestions, particularly about communication.

“I would like to see a general monthly online calendar published via the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce,” Williams said. “Perhaps one that can be directly reported to by arts groups and individual artists for activities, subject to the approval of the webmaster.”

Williams cites the improving outreach and activity at Tannery Row and the continuing growth of the visual arts in Buford as a plus from 2010. She is hoping for “the opportunity to create a body of work for a solo exhibit” in 2011.

Vickie Johnson of Suwanee is one of the creators and administrators of the North Gwinnett Arts Association based out of, but not limited to, the city of Suwanee. She has seen a definite growth in the arts, but has suggestions.

“We still have a bit of fragmentation in Gwinnett County, however, when it comes to the arts,” Johnson said. “There are many organizations and groups that would benefit from joining as a unified front to promote here. We need a hosting group to coordinate all that each group has to offer as a way of strengthen and sponsoring different events and activities that go on through the year.”

“My hope is that the arts continue to grow in Gwinnett County. What better way to rejuvenate and encourage a hurting economy? No matter how poor I have been, I have always made sure that my home is decorated with art and beauty as a way of uplifting spirits in difficult times. This is what the arts can do for our community. A strong presence of art in our communities will help to lift the spirits of neighborhoods and businesses as we all seek to fight back and recover from a difficult time in our country’s history.”

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.