Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts Drama Camp participants perform a show at the end of the two-week summer camp, one of the many offerings for youth through the CRCA. (Special Photo)
Since the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts opened for business 25 years ago, much has changed in terms of venues, events, finances and artists presented, but what hasn’t changed is the organization’s commitment to community entertainment and education.
As a result of nearly a decade of economic unrest in the country, community arts associations have taken it on the chin in terms of private donations, corporate sponsorships and diminishing grant opportunities. Many arts groups have decreased their offerings and some have even shuttered due to money challenges.
But the CRCA has soldiered on in terms of programming, placing more emphasis these days on local visual artists, actors and musicians while still attracting the occasional regional or national act.
“We’ve done a great job to weather the financial storm we’re slowly crawling out of,” CRCA Executive Director Jackie Sprague said. “We’ve had a strong board of directors and strong community support. There have been cutbacks in corporate funding and grants are more difficult to get these days.”
“We were more financially sound in those days because we had funding that came from the city and the county as well,” former CRCA Board Chair Julie Rogers added.
“It was a nice support system for us. But with the changes in the economy, the city still is supporting the arts council to a degree, but we’re relying heavily on private donations and in those days we also had a lot of corporate sponsorships and membership drives.
“We were doing a lot of the same things we’re doing now but we just had more funding. We worked closely with the New Depot Players and their performances and Jackie’s been able to continue to do many of the same things, but we had a bit of an easier time maneuvering projects in those days.”
Even in these lean times, the CRCA has been able to rely on two longstanding entities, its visual-art and musical offerings to young people, and the actors, directors, crew and artisans that make up the ageless New Depot Players, an ensemble that predates the CRCA by many years.
“We still have a great children’s program and our Preschool Pops Series is still strong and we have strong arts and drama camps, which are moderately priced compared to other camps in the surrounding communities. And we have a home theatre group that schedules four to five shows a year in the New Depot Players,” said Sprague.
Caroline Bradberry, chair of the CRCA’s board of directors, is enthused about the organization’s status and praised Sprague’s ability to manage a tight budget, as well as the ongoing patronage of east metro residents.
“Given the economy of the last seven years now, when people make their priorities, some things get cut from their budget first,” Bradberry, who has served on the CRCA’s board for three years and recently became chair.
“We’ve been here for quarter of a century and we’ve got a fantastic community with a lot of support — and it’s not just financial support. It’s moral support, it’s attendance support, it’s volunteer support. … We’re taking it as a grassroots campaign to refresh the community on how important the arts are and how valuable the CRCA is to the community.”
The CRCA — which calls Center Street Arts in Olde Town Conyers as its home — will commemorate its 25th anniversary with a pair of events, both of which will serve as a celebration, awareness event and fundraiser rolled up into one compelling package.
On June 7 at the Olde Town Pavilion, the CRCA will host a performance by Jimmy Buffet tribute band A1A and will hold a silent auction. And in September, a more formal event will be held, the details of which are still being ironed out.
Remembering Paula Vaughn
The celebrations are expected to include tributes to the late Paula Vaughn, whose tireless efforts to promote the arts in Rockdale County helped launch the CRCA in 1989.
“Paula was a founding member of the Arts Council, and under her guidance Rockdale and Newton counties pulled together and she was instrumental in the establishment of the Southern Heartland Arts Festival at Salem Campground,” Rogers said. “She served as chairman of the board of the arts council for a long time and worked on establishing the Center Street offices.
“She was instrumental in redesigning that space, which is where the black box (theatre) and the arts council’s offices are. She got the actual spot for the arts council. So many of the things that are in place now with the arts council, she was the force that originally put them into place. They’ve been able to sustain despite funding issues.”
Perhaps a return to the days of increased financial support is ahead, but there’s little question that a community arts organization has to be nimble these days to survive and even thrive. The effort is worth it, Sprague and her colleagues agree, for the presentation of the arts in the area.
“I believe the arts are vital to a vibrant community and that they bring economic development to a community as well,” Sprague said.
“The arts enlighten our lives and the lives of our children. With all the things going on in the world, the arts give you a place to come and enjoy yourself for a couple an hours, right here in Olde Town. For two hours, you’re not worrying about the bills or ball practice or anything — you’re able to relax and enjoy yourself.”
“(The arts) keep a community grounded,” Rogers added. “We’re able to pull people from different counties into the different venues we have. It is a draw and it keeps people here, instead of always having to go into Atlanta. And we do a lot with things like Preschool Pops, which is a service that provides an opportunity that some of these kids might not otherwise ever be able to be part of.”
“We want to look at the diversity in our community and spread art in the same diverse way,” Bradberry said.
The CRCA is in the midst of its annual fund drive and more information on the organization can be obtained by calling 770-922-3143 or by visiting conyersarts.org.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.