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ART BEAT: Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund luncheon highlights Gwinnett arts groups

The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund held a special celebration of the arts in metro Atlanta in early December at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. Under the theme "Bright Lights: What's Working in the Arts 2012," the event was attended by approximately 500 artists, arts supporters, major corporate sponsors of the arts and regional elected officials.

Gwinnett was not only in attendance, but Gwinnett artists and art organizations were literally front and center for significant portions of the event. At least three of Gwinnett's largest arts nonprofits were in attendance with a significant presence: Aurora Theatre, the Hudgens Center for the Arts and Gwinnett Ballet Theatre.

The event opened with an ensemble from the Aurora Theatre performing "Run With Me" from the world premiere of its show "Clyde 'n Bonnie: A Folktale." Accompanied by Ann-Carol Pence on piano, performers Bryant Smith, Laura Floyd, Tony Larkin, Geoff "Googie" Uterhardt, Greg Bosworth and Ricardo Aponte performed the energetic chase scene from this play which won six awards at the recent Suzi Bass Awards, including the "Audience Choice Award."

"We recently received a grant for $75,000 from MAAF, the largest of last year's grant cycle," said Aurora's Producing Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez. "Performing a few musical numbers was a great way to be able to show our appreciation. MAAF wanted us to perform a number that showcased our new musical initiative. Our world premiere of 'Clyde 'n Bonnie: A Folktale' was the most critically acclaimed production in Atlanta last season, so we hit them with a fast-paced comic number called 'Run with Me.'"

After an inspiring keynote speech by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Ben Cameron and the announcement of this year's grant recipients, Aurora's artists were called back to perform again.

"Lisa Cremin and Josh Phillipson specifically asked us to choose pieces that reflected our most ground-breaking work," Rodriguez said. "They were most interested in Teatro del Sol because it demonstrates our commitment to serving the Spanish community. We performed a number from '4 Guys Named Jose.'"

"Nostalgia Medley" performed by Luis Hernandez, Ricardo Aponte, Joey Florez and Anthony Rodriguez was a heartwarming end to the day's performances.

The day had other Gwinnett highlights. The Hudgens Center for the Arts was awarded a $50,000 grant, one of 15 grant recipients for 2012.

Also in attendance was Linda Murphy, education administrator for the Gwinnett Convention and Visitor's Bureau. Murphy, along with this column's writer, have been invited to be one of the Atlanta Regional Commission's Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta 2013.

"The amazing Bright Lights: 2012 Arts Fund Luncheon was my first event as a member of the 2013 ALMA class," Murphy said. "If this kickoff was any indication of what is coming, I'm truly excited about what I will learn in the coming year. We are so pleased by the recognition that Gwinnett's arts groups are receiving as a result of the innovative and creative work they are doing. All of this simply makes Gwinnett not just a better place to live, but a more appealing destination."

For more information about the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, visit www.metroatlantaartsfund.org.

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