THOM 14 | Fall/Winter 2020


Volume 8 | issue 1

Fall/Winter 2020


Volume 8 | Issue 1

Fall/Winter 2020


Thomasville Center for the Arts

Executive Editor

Michele Arwood

Creative Director

Haile McCollum

Publication Designer

Jennifer Ekrut

Partner Page Designer

Christie Clark


Partner Development

Joanne Thomas

Copy Editor

Emmy Táncsics


Aaron Coury

Gabe Hanway

Molly Hayden

Gray Houser

Timothy Hursley

Jason Kantner

Tanya Lacourse

Stephanie Richardson

Daniel Shippey

Heather Troutman

Erin Wessling


Katie Chastain

Andrea Goto

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Audrey Post

Kenny Thompson


600 E. Washington St., Thomasville, GA




Fall/Winter 2020



4 The Encompassing

Wingspan of Tom Swanston


10 Antennae Up!

An Atlanta “creative” brings

idea people together to strengthen

and improve their community.


16 Graceful Pivots

Creating community on-stage and off-.

22 THOM’s Guide


64 The Future of Food

Changing lives one crop at a time.


70 Architecture of Community

Auburn University’s Rural Studio teaches

people to build on their strengths.



76 Thinking by Design

The art and science of creative learning.


82 More Than A Mural

Savannah pushes the notion of public art.

88 Featured Artists

Cover photo by Stephanie Richardson

Letter From

the Editor

Day by Day

If you stand in the right spot on our front

porch, in the distance you can see the one

remaining historic cottage on the block. Just

in front of it, through the limbs of an old oak,

rises the shell of a new hotel. It’s a striking

view that offers contrast between where we’ve

been, where we are today and what we hope

for tomorrow.

Not a day goes by without someone asking

how I feel about our new “neighbor” moving

in—that’s no exaggeration. Small towns are

charming that way; we care about how people

feel about things. We don’t know much about

each other yet, but I know I am grateful the

hotel is taking a chance on us, and I believe

that it will bring new vitality to our beloved

downtown. That’s not something a rural

city gets to experience very often. And I’m

thankful for what it continues to teach me

about our community. First and foremost,

that it has been built much like the hotel: one

day at a time.

Community building as a field of practice is

aimed at creating or enhancing a geographic

area. Say the word community to me and it

conjures up an image of people who care

about each other pulling together for a

common purpose. Add words like planning

and development to it, though, and I feel a lot

of brain work and heavy lifting coming, so I’d

better rest up for the long haul!

But creating community? That is something

much simpler that we can all do through

the seemingly insignificant choices we

make every day: popping in to meet a new

merchant, saying hello to someone we don’t

know, delivering food to someone who needs

nourishment. That’s the way we do it in

Thomasville. We create community by getting

to know one another and by investing our time

in the people where we live.

The life-changing events we have all

experienced this year have illuminated the

importance of the people we engage with

every day, and how lost we can feel when these

connections are broken. Zoom out for a wider

perspective and you realize it’s how we live

daily, within each of our communities, that

shapes our American way of life. Let us hope

that what we’ve learned this year will help us

create stronger relationships locally to help

our country thrive.

In this 14th issue of THOM, we feature

some of the South’s finest community

creators. They know that the well-being of

any city is dependent on the quality of the

relationships that make it up. If all goes as

planned, you’ll get to meet and learn from

them at our first THOM Live! conference,

in spring 2021. They and others like them

will inspire you with their stories and

share the tools they’ve used to make their

communities better places to live.

issue along with our exhibitions. Behind

these businesses are real people we’ve

met simply by being a part of the everyday

life of our city. Each of them embodies the

true spirit of partners— people working

together to advance a common goal.

We’re grateful for their investment and

encourage you to get to know them if you

don’t already. You’ll be glad you did.

Thirty-eight partners have made this

issue possible. That’s a lot of great people

pulling together for a purpose! Alongside

them are Synovus, presenter of the

Center’s 25th Wildlife Arts Festival; and

Ashley Homestore, which presents this

Michele Arwood

Executive Director,

Thomasville Center for the Arts

Written by

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Photographed by

Stephanie Richardson




of Tom Swanston



Middle Georgia rings with

thousands of excited trills.

These clarion calls and the

accompanying beating of wings

signify that the North American

sandhill cranes are making their

annual pilgrimage to cooler

weather, alighting for a short

rest in the Piedmont’s marshes

and wetlands before heading

farther north.



“There is also emotional migration. How do you

get someone to change their thinking from one

point of view to another?”

“I usually hear them before I see them,” says

artist Thomas Swanston, who has lived in the

path of these migratory flocks for more than four

decades. Face turned to the sky during these few

weeks of the sandhill cranes’ pit stop, Swanston

often observes their mesmerizing practice of

“kettling”—spiraling upward in tight circular

patterns as they crest among thermal updrafts.

“They come right up over the house, swirling

like a gyre. I’m just fascinated by their rhythm.”

For Swanston the cranes are more than

an ornithological marvel; they are muses.

Emulating the endless chromatic variations

of the sky, his massive paintings invariably

feature these birds in flight, traveling from one

end of the canvas to the other and beyond. It is

an inspiration rooted in nature’s ancient cycles:

Sandhill cranes have existed on the planet for

at least ten million years and have followed the

same migratory path for the past ten millennia.

(A small population does live year-round in the

Okefenokee Swamp.)

To take photographs of the birds that he later

projects onto canvas, Swanston travels to

Nebraska’s Central Platte River Valley, where

birders gather each spring to observe the

spectacle of 600,000 sandhill cranes converging

in the broad shallows. Covid-19 left 2020’s

homecoming unwitnessed (“There’s no way

to socially distance when you’re shoulder to

shoulder in a bird stand,” Swanston says, sighing),

though the cranes’ annual journey continues to

be meaningful to its now remote observers.

“We can use migration as a theoretical

framework in a multitude of ways,” Swanston

says. “There is the physical distance covered, the

pattern made over and over again. There is also

emotional migration: How do you get someone

to change their thinking from one point of view

to another?”

While the cranes pursue their circular course,

Swanston’s career path has been more linear:

Formally trained at New York City’s Studio

School, he received his M.F.A. from Parsons

School of Design, where he met his wife and

partner-in-art, Gail Foster. Together they

eschewed the experimental movements of their

peers and followed the tradition of the Hudson

River School, adopting a rigor and technique still

embedded in their work.


“I still think of myself as a landscape painter,”

Swanston says with a shrug.

An offer of an old farmhouse led the couple

from New York to rural Georgia, where both

enjoyed the greater Atlanta art community.

Swanston’s abstract designs found their way

into textiles, wallpaper and other high-end

decor, though he craved a unifying principle

that also expressed his concern for the ecologic

and economic state of the world around him.

“I came to a point where I wanted to integrate

everything I knew,” he recalls.

Around 2008 Swanston began photographing

the cranes and adding their winged profiles to

his work. He chose gilding as the medium with

which to showcase the birds’ seemingly magical

flight, elevating them from the animal world to

something more divine.

“By using a precious metal, the element of

preciousness is embodied in the subject matter

itself,” he says.

Each crane begins as a projection traced and

carefully outlined on canvas and then laid on with

gilder’s glue. To demonstrate the gilding process,

Swanston runs a fine brush called a tip through

his hair to generate a bit of static electricity, then

uses it to lift a tissue-thin sheet of palladium

onto the canvas. After pressing it with glassine (a

thin, dense, transparent paper), he sweeps away


“It’s a perfect opportunity to see how culture—

visual culture as well as agriculture—can be a

point of community and place-making.”

the excess metal to reveal a perfect shimmering

crane, neck and wings outstretched.

“Metal leaf enables more movement in light

than metallic paint,” he says, explaining his

preference for the painstaking process. “Sunlight,

ambient light, fluorescents: The painting changes

depending on what is shining on it.”

Swanston’s crane paintings quickly became

coveted installations and currently grace

galleries and commercial spaces all over the

world, from Paris’s EuroDisney to Shanghai’s

Fashion District to the mirrored Swanston Room

in Charleston’s sumptuous Dewberry Hotel.

His exhibition at Thomasville’s Wildlife Arts

Festival’s 25th anniversary centers on three

anchor pieces glowing with ochre-colored

sunset tones and the cranes’ swooping forms.

Swanston and his studio assistant, the artist

Ralph “rEN” Dillard, built the thick gilded

frames, embellishing them with a billowing

gold motif that conjures the influence of the



past board member of the Alliance of Artists’

Communities, Swanston founded AIR Serenbe,

the artist-in-residence program in the nearby

community model of Serenbe, in 2007 and

envisions rural Rico, just 45 minutes from

downtown Atlanta, as a rich intersection of arts

and economics.

Japanese artist Hokusai and the “amber waves of

grain” of the cranes’ Nebraska summer home.

The scale of Swanston’s paintings means they

require space, and last year he and Foster

remodeled a stunning mid-century brick

Masonic lodge in the tiny agrarian community

of Rico in Chattahoochee Hill Country, west of

Atlanta. The high ceilings easily accommodate

Swanston’s 12-foot panels, and on the other side

of a partition, where a windowed garage door

allows a daylong bath of sunlight, Foster paints

her haunting, sparkling celestial abstractions.

Across the foyer, sculptor Rachel Garceau casts

delicate porcelain forms from molds.

That StudioSwan has become a creative nexus

is no accident. A former gallery owner and a

“It’s a perfect opportunity to see how culture—

visual culture as well as agriculture—can be a

point of community and place-making,” he says.

This impulse to expand what is possible can be

traced back to Swanston’s fascination with the

sandhill cranes. Even as the birds navigate the

disappearance of wetland habitats and other

threats, they manage to thrive independent

of human limitations, carving their migratory

circle, the obstacles of 2020 hardly a blip in their

ten-million-year evolutionary journey.

Says Swanston, eyes to the sky: “Life has been

interrupted, but the cranes continue their path.”

Tom Swanston


Written by

Andrea Goto

Photographed by

Aaron Coury,

Gray Houser,

Tanya Lacourse,

Heather Troutman



An Atlanta “creative”

brings idea people together

to strengthen and improve

their community.



had already invested more than 16 years

in Matchstic, an expanding brand-identity

firm in Atlanta he’d founded at the age of

just 22. His roster of clients included large

organizations, such as Ameris, Chick-fil-A

and the Arthritis Foundation. At 27 he’d

been honored as one of the city’s “top 40

under 40,” the youngest ever to make the

list, and was already a family man, married

and settled in an Atlanta suburb with two

children and a third on the way.

Life was good—great, actually—by all

accounts; yet the slump that creative

people know all too well had started to rear

its ugly, motivation-killing head. “I wasn’t

feeling that inspired, and indifference was

creeping in,” Howard says.

Luckily, Howard knows a thing or two

about both inspiration and indifference—

where to find the former, and how to

dodge the latter. This is thanks in large

part to his experience as the founder of

the Atlanta chapter of CreativeMornings

and to the exposure that network has

provided a close community of artists who

face similar obstacles.

Driven to Create

Launched in New York City in 2008 by

Tina Roth Eisenberg, CreativeMornings

says its intention is to “bring together

people who are driven by passion and

purpose, confident that they will inspire

one another, and inspire change in

neighborhoods and cities around the

world.” It accomplishes this by offering

a free monthly meet-up centered on

an inspiring speaker who lectures on a

theme, such as “invention” or “wonder.”

(Think of it as a networking event minus

the awkward milling about and selfimportant

business-card exchanges.)

Howard serendipitously stumbled across

a CreativeMornings talk while making a

presentation at a conference in Chicago.

Roth Eisenberg also attended the event,

and Howard approached her about forming


an Atlanta chapter. “I just remember thinking,

‘Man, Atlanta really needs this,’” he recalls. “At

the time it was in Paris, San Francisco, New

York—big-time creative cities. I wanted Atlanta

to be on that map.”

Within months Howard had launched

CreativeMornings Atlanta (the tenth chapter at

the time), and the program has since expanded

to 214 cities in 65 countries.

What’s the Big Idea?

While CreativeMornings is a global network

of creatives, it’s the connections made at the

local level that may matter most. “Social media

platforms are great, but they’re never going to

replace the value of face-to-face interactions,”

Howard says. CreativeMornings provides an

approachable, accessible and inclusive format

“Social media platforms are great, but they’re never

going to replace the value of face-to-face interactions.”



important because you get to know people in a

deeper way.”

that builds relationships and spurs change

within neighborhoods and cities.

The selected speakers are not “professional

communicators” (á la Ted Talks); they’re

creative locals with varying backgrounds

who are providing innovative solutions to

their cities’ problems. And from this blooms

conversation, inspiration, collaboration and


Nine years in, Howard credits the program’s

success not only to its format and the quality

of its speakers, but also to its consistency. “The

repetition of offering a talk every month is

Keeping to a tight 60-to-90-minute time limit,

CreativeMornings begins with attendees

participating in a low-risk activity, such as

a scavenger hunt or collective art piece.

Conversation comes naturally this way, Howard

says, unlike in most business networking. There

may be a brief performance, for example poetry

reading or dance, before the talk begins. “This sets

the tone and adds a layer of emotion,” he says.

Battle of the Block

His work at Matchstic and with

CreativeMornings got Howard thinking about

creative professionals and the special problems

they face. “I did some research a while back,

asking what the biggest barriers were in their

careers or what brings the most anxiety to the

profession,” Howard says. The top two answers

he got were, having trouble staying inspired and

dealing with difficult coworkers who “crush your

spirit,” making you afraid to get their input.


“Safety is important in creating amazing work,”

Howard says. What we produce feels personal,

he explains, and we tend to think that “I don’t

like that idea” is the same as “I don’t like you.”

“Most accountants I know don’t have a personal

attachment to their spreadsheets,” he says. “But

graphic designers, or writers, or photographers,

for instance, feel that their work represents who

they are and their value in the world.”

Being a creative is equal parts risk and reward.

We often have to draw on what Howard refers

to as “creative courage” when we put our heart

and soul into our work and hope people like it.

And when our innovative well starts to run dry,

we need to nourish it with inspiration.

Rise and Shine

To address his waning inspiration, Howard

took a month off and did exactly what the

CreativeMornings attendees do every month:

He looked for inspiration. “I spent two to three

hours each day reflecting, journaling, dreaming

and creating art just for fun,” Howard says.

Out of this came the idea to launch a podcast,

The Creative Rising, in which he speaks with

his peers about creativity, courage and careers.

Now in its third season, “the podcast has been

so fulfilling,” Howard says. “I’ve felt inspired

to learn—the production side, how to ask

questions—there’s a lot to it that I’ve been

energized by.”

“Keep your antennae up and try to catch whatever

inspiration is floating around in the ether.”



We asked creatives from across the

South to share where they find inspiration

when indifference creeps in:

Kelly Abbott

Creative director, SouthLife Supply Co

I find most of my inspiration in the average

day-to-day items around me. My latest design

inspiration came from our ceiling fan. I keep a

notebook filled with all of my ideas so I can refer

to it when I’m feeling a little creatively dry.

This also includes playing host to creative

professionals who share their stories—

about everything from overcoming the

fear of public speaking to learning how to

unplug from work.

An artist friend once told Howard to

“keep your antennae up and try to catch

whatever inspiration is floating around in

the ether.” He works to reject indifference

by finding inspiration no matter where he

is in life: through the conversations on the

podcast, the connections made through

CreativeMornings, the books he reads to

his children at night, the river in North

Georgia where he fly fishes…

Creative thinkers and doers are finally

being recognized as problem solvers

who add real value to their professions

and communities. Thanks to people like

Howard, we’re finding each other and

leaning on each other. We’re creating

opportunity. We’re living with our

antennae up to stay engaged in and

inspired by the world around us. For the

benefit of the world around us.

Blake Howard

Sanford Greene

Comic artist

I listen to NPR all day—sometimes to my

detriment! I also listen to Sirius XM “Rock the

Bells” and “Rap Is Outta Control,” and podcasts

like Drink’n’Draw, The Sidebar Podcast and

Off Panel.

Darlene Crosby Taylor

Public art director, Thomasville Center

for the Arts

The Cool Hunter website does it for me.

Everything they post fuels my creativity—

art, architecture, design and travel. Other than

that, when I’m really stuck, I go for a swim to

clear my head.

Rachel Fackender

Associate director, The Moore Agency

I believe genius happens in teams, not silos,

so oftentimes I turn to people—whether they

be friends or colleagues—to serve as that true

catalyst for creativity. One of the best things

about our local creative community is that we

collaborate, we encourage, and we remind each

other that we can indeed conquer the world.

Amy Condon

Writer, author, editor

I go to galleries, local bookstores and the beach.

I listen to Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda and

Revisionist History, and I blast David Bowie,

Prince, Dolly Parton or Sturgill Simpson (because

none of them colored in the lines).

Kristen Baird-Rabun

Jewelry designer

I get my best ideas when I get outside and go

for a run. It calms the chatter in my head so

I can go into “design mode.”

Michael Nolin

Film producer, writer, director

I binge-watch Turner Classic Movies or open up

“Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.”

Jonathan Rabb


I read the news, Joan Didion and Graham Greene.

I’m also inspired by history books.



Creating community onstage and off- for more than 20 years.

Written by

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Photographed by

Jason Kantner


“Most of

what they

were wearing

was held

together with

hot glue and

safety pins.”



“It really gave

closure. These are

girls who are used

to seeing each other

four days a week

for years; they’re

like sisters. They

needed this.”


the dancers of South Georgia Ballet are buzzing

like bees.

Their spring show takes months to prepare, from

building sets to perfecting the angle of each

arabesque. Every dancer puts in hundreds of hours

tied up in the satin ribbons of their toe shoes for

the annual performance that is a hallmark of

the company, and of Thomasville. It’s especially

important to the company’s high school seniors,

according to its artistic and executive director,

Melissa June.

Back in the innocent days of February 2020, June

was pleased with how pre-production for The

Lion King was coming along. Then the Covid-19

pandemic hit, interrupting practice schedules,

classes and everything else.

“We thought it was going to be two weeks,” June

remembers with a laugh. “We filmed ourselves

doing the choreography and posted it on YouTube

for the dancers to learn, figuring we would come

back together and catch up.”

In ballet shoes since the age of three, June herself

grew up dancing in Daytona Beach and received

her degree in dance from Florida State. After a stint

in professional companies in the Carolinas, family

brought her back to Florida, where she served

as ballet mistress of Volusia County until South

Georgia Ballet founder Alison Bundrick lured her

north with a job offer in 2011.

“I absolutely fell in love with Thomasville,” June

says. “It’s so rich in art, and when I saw the Center

for the Arts and how much art surrounded it—

performance art, visual art, art students, the

building itself—I knew this was the opportunity

I was looking for.”

Now in her tenth season with SGB, June has


shepherded many toddlers in tutus to become fullfledged

ballerinas. Yet nothing had prepared her for

the professional challenges of spring 2020.

When statewide shelter-in-place orders made

theaters go dark and online learning became the

standard overnight, she realized that the detour

would become a full pivot. June and her staff

worked through the frustrations of teaching online

and blocking without a physical space.

As the weeks turned into months, however, there

was never a question but that the show must go on.

“One day it came to me that The Lion King is set

outside,” June says, “and I thought, ‘Why can’t we

do that?’”



This epiphany quickly morphed into a pragmatic

solution with some helpful coincidences June calls

“God winks.” Board member Ethan Lovett, who

co-owns the video production agency Summerhill

Creative, agreed to film and edit the show. Then

a parent offered their 30-acre farm for socially

distanced rehearsals. The farm so reminded June of

the show’s “Pride Lands” setting that she decided to

film it on the property.

The next step was to present the idea to the


“That was tough, because the seniors wanted to

have that last graduation moment onstage for their

parents. But once we got everyone on board, it just

flowed. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.”

The dancers met outdoors in small groups

for the month of June, rehearsing from 9 a.m. to

7 p.m. daily as Lovett filmed. Costumes proved a

challenge, since the vendors South Georgia relied

on closed during the pandemic.

“Most of what they were wearing was held together

with hot glue and safety pins,” June confesses,



But the wardrobe and the weather held, and Lovett

was able to edit the final footage in less than two

weeks. Then came the final “God wink”—a chance

meeting with local pastor Dr. Walter Sims, who

volunteered to lend his sonorous baritone as

narrator, giving the production a unifying voice.

Though the future of stage productions this

season remains uncertain, June is already

brimming with ideas for a safely distanced

Nutcracker with a German-inspired Christmas

market and rotating sets.

By the end of July, June and her staff were able to

screen The Lion King safely for live audiences of

fewer than 50 people at the Center.

“It really gave closure,” June sums up. “These are girls

who are used to seeing each other four days a week

for years; they’re like sisters. They needed this.”

The adapted performance serves as an example of

how June influences her dancers in areas beyond

choreography. She has always affirmed that the

work ethic, time management and perseverance

required of ballet translate into success in life.

“I’ve learned so much about leadership and

perseverance from Ms. Melissa,” former company

dancer Maryam Sibley says of June. Sibley took her

first ballet class at South Georgia when she was

three and is now in her freshman year at Sewanee.

“Even in the quiet moments when we were

stretching at the barre, she always demonstrated

how important it is to keep going, to keep looking

for the light at the end of the tunnel, for ourselves

and for others.”

That sense of doing for others runs through the

company. The studio offers classical ballet training

for aspiring dancers as well as general instruction

to more than 150 children a year through its Step

Up partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs and

the Thomasville Community Resource Center. The

nonprofit also pioneered the Special Steps program,

which brings together staff and students with

special needs.

June credits the program’s success to the support

from the community, and to her board in that it

gave her the freedom to push creative boundaries,

and to explore and experiment.

But the greatest result of the pandemic pivot is that

she showed her dancers how to be flexible not only

in their bodies but in their circumstances.

“In the long run, we’re building resilient people

who will be creative in their approach to problem

solving. That’s what this company is really about.”

South Georgia Ballet


There is no power

for change

greater than a


discovering what

it cares about.

– Margaret J. Wheatley


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The Future

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lives one crop

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a get-down-on-your-knees-and-dig-in-thedirt

kind of mission—to bring fresh food

to people without access to it. In turn he’s

bringing customers to small Southwest

Georgia farmers who have been shut out of

the commercial market.

In the process “Farmer Fredo” and his

partners are also teaching people to grow

their own food, cook it and obtain fresh

food to supplement their homegrown crops.

Through a network of gardens at churches,

community centers and schools as well as

cooking classes through the Cooperative

Extension Service and tasting sessions with

students and parents, Flint River Fresh—a

subsidiary of the state Department of

Agriculture’s “Georgia Grown” program—is

changing lives.

to garden. And you’d be amazed: Some of

these young people have never been taught

how to use a knife, because they’ve never

watched anyone cook.”

The project’s origins lay in a desire to lift

people on the south side of Albany, Georgia,

above poverty and eliminate food deserts in

that city, but its successes have been built on

strong leadership, community resilience and a

shared commitment to a better life for all.

“Back in the 1940s, before refrigerated tractortrailers

were running up and down the road,

everyone had a vegetable garden in the yard,”

Jackson says. “Now people have forgotten how



It’s a Desert Out There

Thirty-two percent of Albany’s residents live

below the poverty line, the highest number of

any city in Georgia and almost three times the

national average of 13 percent, according to the

U.S. Census. When the south side’s only grocery

store closed several years ago, access to fresh

food was cut off for many people.

In 2016 the Flint River Soil and Water

Conservation District received a grant from the

National Association of Conservation Districts

for a pilot urban agricultural program in south

Albany. The next year, Jackson was hired as

coordinator. The project evolved into Flint River

Fresh, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and Jackson became

executive director. It is becoming a model for

other communities not just in Georgia but

throughout the country.

Flint River Fresh still operates mostly in Albany,

which has set up teaching gardens at every

elementary school in Dougherty County, as well

as a pre-K and a couple of private schools. The

food is sold in pop-up markets, served in school

cafeterias and donated to area food banks.

The program also operates, on a smaller scale, in

all nine counties in the Flint River Basin: Baker,

Calhoun, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Miller,

Mitchell and Seminole. In particular, Flint River

Fresh works with small farmers to get their crops

and products to market through the Farm-to-

Table box program; the Farm-to-Church, Farm-


“We want people to understand

that fresh produce comes from the dirt,

not from the store.”



to-School and Farm-to Hospitals programs; and

mobile farmers markets.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase access

to nutritious, locally grown food, whether

it’s teaching people how to grow it in their

backyards or connecting them to local

farmers or growers of fresh produce in our

region,” Jackson says.

He hopes to expand throughout Southwest

Georgia, including Thomas County. A garden

has already been started in Colquitt County.

Deep Roots

Flint River Fresh’s website makes clear that

its mission is about more than making sure

people have access to good, locally grown

food at an affordable price and farmers

have outlets for their produce. It’s about

building communities of people from diverse

backgrounds who work together to develop

community food centers and safe spaces for

children and families.

While the young people are in school, parents

and retirees work the community gardens.

During summer Flint River Fresh conducts

camps where kids learn to grow food.

“It’s good to see kids eat a cherry tomato right

off the vine,” Jackson says. “You can tell they’ve

never tasted anything like it.”

Like those of Flint River Fresh, Jackson’s roots

are in agriculture. He grew up in Plains, Georgia,

and learned to cook at his grandmother’s knee.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology

at Southern Methodist University, he began

working in agricultural outreach and food

production for low-income communities,

including helping Gulf Coast communities

rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. He also spent

time at historic Koinonia Farm in Sumter

County, a spiritually based nonprofit community

that seeks to overcome racial divisions with

collaborative farming. There he learned the

latest in small-scale organic farming.

Casey Cox, the former executive director of Flint

River Soil and Water Conservation District who

hired Jackson, says Flint River Fresh has a unique

opportunity to help small local farmers and lowincome


“The focus is on education and food access,



“It’s good to see kids eat a cherry tomato

right off the vine. You can tell they’ve

never tasted anything like it.”

but we really wanted smaller farmers

to get access to restaurants and small

markets,” says Cox, who serves on Flint

River Fresh’s board. “Those smaller farms

produce enough to market, but they’re

limited by the existing supply chain.”

Everyone Is Invited

The teaching gardens and the programs

within the schools have resulted in

students teaching their parents about

backyard gardening. The Dougherty

County school system has partnered with

Flint River Fresh to show the community

what can be done with the fresh produce.

“We want people to understand that fresh

produce comes from the dirt, not from the

store, so we invite the students, parents

and our community partners to share

the harvest through taste-test menus,”

says Blaine Allen, the school system’s

nutrition director. “Fredo talks about how

agriculture equates to eating healthy.”

The system recently demonstrated uses

for kale, including kale smoothies, kale

salad and kale chips. But the item the kids

liked best was sautéed kale—so much so

that it will be added to the lunch menu.

Communities working together to

empower young people to grow their

own food, teach their parents and make

healthy choices? Now, that’s a future we

can look forward to.

Flint River Fresh



The Architecture of



Auburn University's Rural

Studio teaches people to build

on their strengths.


Alabama, in 1993 with a simple

but radical philosophy: Everyone,

rich or poor, deserves the benefit of

good design. Part of the architecture

program at Alabama’s Auburn

University, the studio has grown

from one professor and six students

to an internationally renowned

program that has graduated more

than 1,000 citizen architects and

built more than 200 projects in

rural Alabama, including homes,

parks and civic buildings. I sat down

with Xavier Vendrell, chair of the

graduate program for Rural Studio,

to discuss the studio and what

it has learned about connecting


Written by Kenny Thompson

Photographed by Timothy Hursley

and Rural Studio



What drew you to the studio?

The place had some magic

that attracted and inspired

me. I suppose it is a mix of

everything: The history of the

place, the heat, the light, the

storms, the weather; there is

something indescribably “real”

here. I come from urban places;

I was born in Barcelona and

then lived 20 years in Chicago.

It’s not that nothing is real in

Chicago and Barcelona, but

here is a place that inspires me.

This place gives me a creative

energy I didn’t have in Chicago.

The studio makes me better

as an educator, as an architect

and as a human being.

How has the setting of

Rural Studio affected your

design philosophy?

Essentially, my design

philosophy has not changed.

As an architect, you must

answer to this place, in this

moment of time. Place is

very local and includes the

landscape, the weather and

the culture. Good design is

like a dialogue with the place.

Little things, like the heat and

humidity of summer and long

distances between houses,

become important, and you

pay attention to these things.

They are not negative; you

learn to accept and live with

them as elements of the place.

What is the mission of the

studio, and how has that

changed since 1993?

The mission of the studio is


“The studio makes

me better as an

educator, as an

architect, and as

a human being.”


the same: to educate citizen

architects. The way we teach

students has evolved for a

changing world. Our past

experience has helped make

Rural Studio better, and

we have learned from our

mistakes. Every project has

been a learning experience

and has guided the studio’s

evolution. And it hasn’t

just been our work that has

evolved; in our everyday life

we have become residents

of this place, and we have

changed and adapted to where

we are here and now.

Do you have specific

examples of how you

have adapted?

Our focus for the past few

years has been to concentrate

most of our projects in

Newbern and Greensboro,

Alabama. This makes our

work more effective: If you

do only one thing in one

community, it doesn’t have

the same impact; you don’t

have the knowledge of the

place. Another example is that

we have increased the amount

of public projects we work on.

In a town the size of Newbern,

you have three public projects

for 200 people; wow, that’s

an impact! The community

buildings are important

because a house affects only

one family, but a community

project affects everyone.

What does it mean to be a

good neighbor?

When I was in Barcelona, I

remember going to live in my

grandmother’s apartment

after she died. At the local

grocery store I was known as

her grandson, and that meant

something. If I forgot my wallet

I wouldn’t have to pay; they



“The way we

teach students

has evolved

for a changing


trusted I would come back and

pay tomorrow. I think that is a

level of trust and intimacy we

have lost today, and people in

small towns relate to this more

than people in bigger cities.

For example, Newbern has

a public library not because

“someone in government”

thought it would be a good

idea, but because a member

of the community thought it

was important and decided to

make it happen. There are a

lot of people in the community

who are active in the projects

we do but who are not part

of Rural Studio. They are the

reason the studio is still here

and why it is relevant.

What lessons have you

learned that you can share?

We’ve learned that we can

build beautiful buildings but

that without community

support, our work will never

be successful. We always try

to work with the community

organizations that will

manage our projects, and I

say “our” but these are never

really ours; these projects

belong to the community,

and it is the members of

the communities who will

guarantee their success.

Projects that benefit only

a part of the community

will not connect people in

a meaningful way, and the

most important lesson is that

successful projects involve

all the people from all the

different communities.

What are you most excited

about right now?

The most exciting project

is always the one that I’m

currently working on. Right

now we’re doing a research

project called the 20K Project

which is all about designing

houses that are affordable.

It’s exciting because we have

the potential to change the

lives of a lot of families in

the South. It is fascinating

that a little institution like

us gets to work with a lot of

great partners to try to help

with housing affordability

and the effect that it can

have for communities. These

little houses are beautiful and

energy efficient as well. It will

be fascinating to see where it

goes from here.

Rural Studio

Rural Studio hits the road in Spring 2021 to join us for the THOM Live! conference. Vendrell

and his team will share more about their journey and how you too can be a good neighbor.


Written by

Katie Chastain

Photographed by

Gabe Hanway and

Daniel Shippey


by Design

The art and science of creative learning.



Ladson calls out. Ryan and Shawn jump up,

exchange high-fives and fall into comfortable

banter about basketball and beetles. Ryan lives

little more than a mile from Shawn, but they rarely

see each other. Ryan attends Brookwood School,

and Shawn attends Harper Elementary School.

For eight months both were part of coLAB, a

collaboration of 64 Brookwood and Harper third

graders digging into the art and science of the

burying beetle. They learned to sew and pin

beetles, studied pollination and food webs with

entomologists, identified bug sounds and felt the

tingle of hissing cockroaches crawling up their

arms. And in the end produced an exhibition of

sketches, prints, murals, writing and 3-D art about

the importance of bugs in our ecosystem.



In many ways the two mirror their schools’

leadership, former Harper principal Melvin

Hugans and Brookwood headmaster Randy

Watts, whose commitment to cross-cultural

communication sparked the initiative. Hugans

and Watts, while being interviewed together,

also fall into easy conversation, not about bugs

and basketball but about their shared vision

for education.

“An education outside the four walls of the

school,” as Hugans says. “We are not doing our

jobs educationally if we’re not giving them

those collaborative, cross-cultural experiences.

When our third graders hit the job market,

they are going to be in a pluralistic society.”

A Place to Design

Both school leaders knew that this partnership

presented an opportunity for their students

to experience students from different


“The education is the focus, but magic

happens when it is experienced

in an inspiring space.”

backgrounds, cultures and life experiences.

And Thomasville Center for the Arts’ director,

Michele Arwood, knew that art centers can

provide an inspiring and neutral ground for

connection. The Center’s former downtown

location in the heart of the Creative District

made it an outstanding home for the coLAB; it

was also within walking distance of program

partners the Marguerite Neel Williams Boys &

Girls Club and You’re Maker art studio.

Leaders from all the organizations came

together to dream up what a collaboration

between them could look like. While all

agreed that equal partnership, cross-cultural

communication, leadership and community

involvement would be program goals, there

was no template for designing an equal

collaboration between an independent school

and a public school.

To construct one, the group took a page from

educators across the world who are retooling

their institutions to meet the needs of a 21stcentury

workforce and using creative education

as a way to close the skills gap.

One note that stands out: Place matters.

“When designing programs to ignite creativity,

we’ve learned an important lesson,” Arwood

explains. “The education is the focus, but

magic happens when it is experienced in an

inspiring space.”

She cites the book The Third Teacher, by

CannonDesign, VS Furniture and Bruce Mau

Design, which began a conversation among

the group about how design informs teaching

and learning. “United in the conviction that

environment is our children’s third teacher,”


the book begins, “we can begin anew a

vital mission: designing today’s schools for

tomorrow’s world.”

World-Changing Ideas

“We know kids need a safe space to express

themselves artistically and grow in that

expression,” Arwood says. “But they also need

to learn the process of creation—meaningful

creation that improves their own lives and those

of the people around them. In coLAB we are

working on the ‘purposeful creativity’ element.”

Arwood, Hugans and Watts delegated the

design of the coLAB program to those within

their organizations with solid experience in art

education, public art, project-based learning

and adaptive learning. “It took flight once it got

out of our hands,” Watts says.

Jenny Ladson, a Brookwood academic-support

teacher, worked with Center staff to line up

visiting scientists, organize service projects and

coordinate teachers’ schedules and extension

activities, such as journal exchanges between

the students.

“We put tremendous work and thought into

every part of the process. Because, really, this is

the most important work you can do,” Ladson



“We are connecting the disconnected,

and I have a passion that it be done

in the most meaningful way possible.”

says. "We connected the disconnected, and

we were committed to doing it in the most

meaningful way possible."

The bug focus originated from the Center for

the Arts’ bugOUT public-art event. Students

began with team building, a public-art walk and

a design challenge. They were asked to use art

to communicate the importance of their team’s

assigned bug. Using the resources within the

Creative District, teams explored the art and

science of their bugs.

“The partnership with the Center was an

essential ingredient. Using the arts to express

a societal concern, like the extinction of a

particular bug, was incredibly powerful,”

Watts says.

Hugans agrees, and adds, “The chance to have

a specialist, a master of their craft, share their

skill was an important influence. I think that

will stay with the kids for a long time.”

But all concur that it’s the connections that will

matter most in the long run.

Before the boys return to their respective schools,

they exchange a quick hug. "See ya, dude."

Both boys, along with their 62 classmates, now

understand what it means to cross borders.



Savannah pushes the

notion of public art.


Savannah is awash in color.

From its famous azalea blooms

to the pastel facades of Victorian

manses to the azure locks of the

barista at the corner coffee shop,

Georgia’s first city boasts bright,

bold hues.

It wasn’t until fairly recently,

however, that Savannah’s chromatic

profile included public art. While

the Savannah College of Art &

Design has fostered an artistic

climate since the 1970s, attempts

to embellish public spaces were

quickly whitewashed over. The city

finally adopted a mural policy in

2012, when artists Matt Hebermehl

and James “Dr. Z” Zdaniewski

established an official channel for

sanctioned street art, an effort that

resulted in a sparkling seascape

on a vacant building dubbed the

Muralcle on 34th Street.


Written by

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Photographed by

Molly Hayden and

Erin Wessling



That celebratory piece was torn down to

make way for new construction in 2014, but

its groundbreaking legacy lives on. Savannah

now hosts a thriving milieu of murals and

projects boosted by city leadership and creative

entrepreneurs. Partnerships between the

artistic and business communities abound

as residents make space for multimedia

installations among antebellum architecture

and moss-draped oak trees.

Painter, sculptor and longtime community

linchpin Katherine Sandoz contributed

several layers of that first public mural and

has gone on to help define the many ways

“public art” can manifest in a historic city

like Savannah.

“It can be collaborative; it can be a

solo effort. It can be a mural; it can be

sculpture. It can be city-sponsored; it can

be a commercial enterprise. All of those are

important in a cityscape,” says Sandoz, who

has produced and advocated for dozens of

other projects as well as tended to her own.

“Most important, it needs to engage its

audience and be meaningful—as opposed to

just beautiful.”

The passion for public art here is fueled

by the desire to tell the tale of the city.

While Savannah’s three centuries of history

informs the bulk of its public story, art

advocates suggest that there’s plenty of

room for new conversations.

“When we started out, public art in

Savannah seemed to only mean statues of

men who did things. Those are monuments,

not public art,” explains W Projects’ Erin

Wessling, who has appeared regularly in

front of the Historic Site and Monument

Commission on behalf of privately funded

public art projects since the mural policy

was implemented. “I think that we’ve been

able to help expand that definition.”


“Most important, it needs to engage

its audience and be meaningful—

as opposed to just beautiful.”


Wessling has a keen talent

for pioneering platforms

and navigating the city’s

permitting process for others.

The exterior of her firm’s

downtown offices currently

exhibit giant rosettes by

muralist Vanessa Platacis,

and Wessling helped Lori

Judge of Judge Realty turn her

historic building’s facade into

a revolving public art display

that has presented Sandoz’s

upcycled flower garden

made from plastic bags,

Jamie Bourgeois’ living moss

installation and an animated

light show by Will Penny.

“We’ve done everything but

a mural,” says Judge, one of

Savannah’s most notable art

patrons and collectors. “That’s

for a reason. We want to show

what public art can be.”

W Projects has also overseen

large-scale events that have

employed thoughtful urban

design to invigorate parts of

the city. The firm was behind

the interactive Parks to

Pavement installation when

Savannah hosted last year’s

Center for New Urbanism

conference, and it staged 2017’s

A-Town Get Down Festival

on a forgotten stretch of land

under the Talmadge Bridge, an

area now teeming with new


“We know from the research

that public art has an impact.

It helps people see a place

differently. It’s not just about

putting up a temporary mural;

it’s about revitalizing spaces

for public use,” Wessling says.

The “public” part is not

only about access but also

about resources. Privately

supported successes have

sparked interest—and actual

funding—from city leadership.

This year the City of Savannah

launched Arts on Waters, a

series of rotating installations

by local artists in a vacant

shopping plaza owned by the

city. Overseen by legendary

sculptor and international

public art icon Jerome

Meadows, the project is part of

a strategy to invigorate a longdilapidated


“Across the country, cities

have seen that public art is an

economic driver,” says Manny

Dominguez, director of the

Office of Business Opportunity.

“The idea is that this type of

creative place-making will

inspire people to get out and

enjoy their neighborhood again.”



“Art makes cities better. Without it you

don’t have authenticity or engagement.”

One neighborhood benefiting

from public art is the

Starland District, south of

downtown on Bull Street,

where entrepreneur and

“artivist” Clinton Edminster

has been championing

the cause for years. Once

languishing, Starland is now

a full-fledged cultural center

thanks to its First Friday Art

March, a new concert venue

and a slew of locally owned

anchor businesses, including

Edminster’s own pink-andyellow

art-supply shop,


“Art makes cities better.

Without it you don’t have

authenticity or engagement,”

Edminster says.

activism in others. Panhandle

Slim, the nom de guerre of

folk artist Scott Stanton, has

partnered with the grassroots

Walls of Hope project to place

vivid portraits and inspiring

messaging in neighborhoods

where terms like site activation

and tactical urbanism mean

little to residents facing blight

and gun violence.

“Walls of Hope has done what

a meeting or a speech cannot

do,” says the movement’s

co-founder Beverlee Trotter.

“When people see Scott’s

work they talk, they gather.

It has opened many to think

critically and for others to

believe that the impossible

is possible.”

If engagement and meaning

are the point of public art, then

Savannah has found many

grooves. And as Georgia’s first

city continues to create new

points of entry for this art,

there’s bound to be more color

and inspiration at every turn.

W Projects

His most kaleidoscopic triumph

is the Starland Mural Project,

a collection of eight massive

works by various artists on the

corner of a landmark dairy. The

project was funded in part by a

Weave-A-Dream grant from the

city and received accolades for

its well-designed application.

While public art is bringing

economic vigor to some areas

of Savannah, it is a beacon for

Jessica Leigh Lebos, Erin Wessling, and Katherine Sandoz will take the stage at our first

THOM Live! conference in Spring 2021 to share what it takes to stage powerful public art.



Katie Chastain is a serial entrepreneur and an educator with a knack for

finding creative opportunities. Whether it’s turning an underperforming business

around or finding purpose for an underperforming student, she enjoys solving

tough problems. She joined Thomasville Center for the Arts last year to design

experiences like coLAB to connect students through purposeful creativity.

Aaron Coury is a husband, a father and a photographer in Atlanta. He was

taught photography by his father, Nick, who has worked in the industry for more than

50 years. Aaron’s business revolves around portraits and real estate photography,

but he is versed in all aspects of the field and appreciates the new challenges

photography brings every day.

Molly Hayden has spent more than a decade traveling and documenting

creative endeavors all over the world. Through her work as a photojournalist, she

captures the stories of artists and communities, offering a glimpse into vibrant cities

and their colorful inhabitants. She lives in Savannah. @mollytookaphoto

Jason Kantner is an award-winning graphic designer and photographer who

has worked with some great people over the past 23+ years. His approach blends a

passion for big ideas with a desire for sensible solutions. But he’s most pleased to be

known as Angie’s husband and Alex and Sam’s dad.

Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing

problems and amazing places for 25 years. Originally from the West Coast, she is

the award-winning author of Savannah Sideways and introduces herself at cocktail

parties as “Southern by marriage.”

Kenny Thompson is passionate about promoting “People First” design to

bring about lasting change—by using design to make the world a better place. From

brainstorming design ideas with members of the public to writing zoning codes to

drafting streetscape details, Kenny is intimately involved in all aspects of designing

the places we live. When he isn’t out working in the community, you can find him

exploring nature with his wife and children.


Illustrators, Photographers, Writers and Graphic Designers

Please contact: Thomasville Center for the Arts | (229) 226-0588


Image: Blue Garden Kneeling

by Megan Holmes







Providing creative space for the teachers of Scholars Academy.


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