Macon Arts Alliance focuses on transforming the city's 'birthplace'

arts / Article

Take a moment to think about the run-down neighborhood or downtown block that you may have passed today on your commute to work or school. At one point in time, these areas were likely vibrant and occupied by families and businesses.

There are many factors–among them, lack of funds and inadequate planning–that can cause once-bustling communities to decay into a series of dilapidated buildings and houses. Once this happens, it can, as they say, take a village to restore these areas to their former status.

Creative placemaking often puts arts and culture at the center of efforts to rereinvigorate neighborhoods, towns and cities. In Macon, Ga., one such project is the Tattnall Square Center for the Arts, a historic church building that is now home to Mercer University’s theater department and also functions as a community rental facility. Another is Beall’s Hill, which was transformed into a growing, economically diverse neighborhood, in part through a partnership between Knight Foundation and Historic Macon Foundation. Both examples fall within the boundaries of the College Hill Corridor, which is a larger effort in neighborhood revitalization and creative placemaking that is also supported by Knight Foundation.

The proposed home of the Mill Hill Community Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Macon Arts Alliance.

The Macon Arts Alliance, a Knight Arts grantee, is now focused on overhauling the East Macon Historic District. Forty-six percent of properties in the neighborhood that's known as the “birthplace of Macon” are vacant and blighted. But the Macon Arts Alliance has a grand vision for the area: to turn it into Mill Hill, East Macon’s Art Village. To this end, the alliance is working with the county's Urban Development Authority on restoring local houses, as well as an old auditorium that is the proposed site of the Mill Hill Community Arts Center.

The group is also proposing a two-year artist residency program, with housing for artists-in-residence surrounding the community arts center. Macon Arts Alliance has received a $134,370 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the program.

With all of these developments, the Macon Arts Alliance has formed a department specifically dedicated to creative placemaking. On October 1, former Knight Arts blogger Jonathan Harwell-Dye will transition from director of communications to director of creative placemaking at the Macon Arts Alliance. Harwell-Dye has worked on many new programs at the Macon Arts Alliance, such as the Ovations365.com events calendar and Art Matters, a journalism project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Knight Foundation and Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.

“Jonathan has done a fantastic job as director of communications, and I know he will continue to do great work in his new position,” said Jan Beeland, executive director of Macon Arts Alliance. “He's been involved with Mill Hill from the very beginning, and he has been key in developing the programming and seeking grant support. His firsthand knowledge of the project and his experience working on NEA-funded projects make him the perfect choice to lead the artist residency and cultural planning program.”

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