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Saved by Art
Article by Kathleen Walls

Augusta has always been a city that appreciated its art. However, in Augusta, the local artist repaid that devotion well. As the second largest and second oldest city in Georgia, Augusta early on developed a downtown business district with Broad Street as its heart. Broad Street was where citizens shopped, dined, mingled and considered the heart of their city. With the advent of suburbs and malls in the 50s and 60s, Augusta's Broad Street area fell into a decline. Stores closed and became boarded up graffiti covered buildings where few wanted to venture.

Store front art gallery on Broad St. Augusta GA - One look in the windows will draw you in

This was happening in cities across the country. People found it easier to visit a mall. They were covered, convenient, had lots of parking and were new. People overlooked that malls were impersonal cookie cutter clusters of chain stores not local owned and really with no stake in the community.

Then in 1994, someone in the city had an idea. Artists were the poorest tenants usually and had a hard time paying rents in the overpriced malls. Why not offer them the opportunity to have subsided rent on some of the stores that were currently sitting empty anyway downtown? Since there was living space upstairs, the artists could live above their galleries. All they asked in return was that the artists open late and set up out in front of the galleries and demonstrate their art on the first Friday each month. The artists might have been poor and struggling but they weren’t crazy and they knew a win win situation when they saw one. Cheap rent, living quarters included and an opportunity to demonstrate what they love to do all at reduced rent? Their response was as expected: where do I sign up?

Pat Warren displays several of Marlin Miller's woodcarvings at Gallery on the Row

Thus, Artists' Row was born. It's a non-profit corporation that has done much to revitalize Augusta's downtown business district on Broad Street. As "First Fridays" drew more people back downtown, local shop owners who were just hanging on began to stay open later in the hope of selling their wares, new eateries sprang up to feed the art lovers, Broad Street regained its pride and now drew people in instead of frightening them away. This year, Artists' Row is celebrating their 20th anniversary.

I visited several of the galleries and can vouch for the quality and variety of the work displayed. Art On Broad was founded by a husband-wife artist team, Kristin Varn and Jim Tar. Jim recently passed away but his work lives on. Although self taught, he was a talented oil painter as well as woodworker. The fact that he was a Preparator for the Morris Museum of Art prior to founding Art on Broad attests to the level of his work. Art on Broad features local and regional artists in many mediums.

Lou Ann Zimmerman discusses her gallery

Should you purchase an unframed canvas, Kristin is a talented framer and can create the look you want for the picture. Usually you will be greeted by one of their rescue dogs who have an art of their own, the ability to melt a heart with just one look into their soulful eyes.

Pat Warren, a co-owner of Gallery on the Row showed me a sample of the many artists whose work is represented in this gallery. One that really impressed me was Marlin Miller. His wood carvings are created out of wood salvaged from the gulf after Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, Marlin donated his time and talents to carving countless numbers of the dead trees left standing along the gulf coast: everything from eagles to angels. They became almost shrines to the victims of Katrina.

Pat is a talented water colorist in her own right and her work along with many others is displayed in the gallery. Not only painting and photography, the art runs the gamete from basket weaving to fabric art and even some impressive calligraphy.

A food tent at a previous Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival

Lou Ann Zimmerman is the owner of Zimmerman Galleries and her philosophy is simple. "I try to get things for the gallery that I love myself and wouldn't mind having."

The regional and local art she displays in the gallery is truly eclectic. Not unusual as Lou Ann is pretty eclectic herself. Her works range from realistic to abstract: from acrylic to watercolor. Best of all, her studio is in the rear of the gallery so if you are lucky you might get a glimpse of the artist at work on any given day.

One sculptor she represents in Augusts is Jeff Birchill, who was recently awarded membership in the prestigious Society of Animal Artists. This is an extreme honor as few are chosen and even fewer of those are sculptors. His work seems to live and breathe.

Patron looks over art at Morris Museum in Augusta, GA - Some of the art at a festival - Credit Redwolf

There are several other Artists' Row galleries downtown but time was pressing and I regretfully missed visiting all of them, You can however and if you go on the First Friday you will get to watch them create their amazing art right in front of your eyes. span style="mso-spacerun:yes"> There is the M.A. D Studio, Artistic Perceptions, OddFellows Gallery, Tire City Potters and the Book Tavern.

They offer a great Riverfront Arts Festival you don't want to miss. This year it's June 7-14, 2014. Two other art festivals you don't want to miss in Augusta are Arts in the Heart of Augusta, three days of art vendors, live performances and a global food village. It's September 19-21, 2014 and Westobou Festival. It celebrates excellence in the arts, the festival features performances and exhibitions in the disciplines of dance, film, music spoken word and visual art. The dates for it are October 1-5, 2014.

Morris Museum

Augusta has other galleries and art museums as well. The Morris is a favorite. It's open every day except Mondays and major holidays. William S. Morris III began the museum in 1985 in memory of his parents William Shivers Morris, Jr,. and Florence Hill Morris. He wanted to make art accessible to all thus the Morris Museum is open and free on Sunday.

But don't take my word for it. Come to Augusta and check it our yourself. You won't be sorry.

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Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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