This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Tucked amid the longleaf pines in the southwest corner of Georgia lies Thomasville. A quintessential rural southern city where one feels a palpable sense of place and strong community pride in the historic assets.
But don’t let the overt commitment to preserving “yesterday” fool you. While more than a nod is given to the history and rich sporting culture, this is a city that understands a vibrant future lies in the minds of the artists, innovators and entrepreneurs who are creating what’s to come.
For nearly 90 years, Thomasville has celebrated and fostered an appreciation for the arts. The development of the Thomasville Entertainment Foundation in 1930 brought world-renowned artists to perform in this community and laid the foundation for many other organizations who have played a critical role in enhancing the quality of life.
In 2010 a shift in thinking marked a turning point for Thomasville when the arts community assumed a new and vital role: to cultivate an environment where curious and creative minds can thrive.
Since that time, investment in the arts has increased two-fold and the process of designing programs has become an intentional, collaborative effort between its citizens, government, organizations, foundations and the business community. They are partners working together to create on purpose
: to connect diverse communities, inspire new ideas, address social concerns, and foster a creative milieu to drive economic growth.
Multi-discipline festivals have been redesigned with more emphasis on meaningful engagement; artistic programs celebrate the diverse aspects of the community’s heritage and promote artists from across disciplines; public art is placed in abandoned lots to provoke conversations; exhibitions of works by emerging and world-renowned artists are shown in unexpected spaces; performances are presented in venues large, small, indoors and out; artist residency and student internship programs are designed to attract the brightest creative minds; and sizable investment has been made in developing innovative learning programs for youth and adults.
With increased enthusiasm for the arts came a second turning point. In 2012, the city of Thomasville, Thomasville Center for the Arts and Thomasville Landmarks brought the community together to create a vision plan for the now emerging Creative District. Located in the historic African-American and Jewish neighborhood, the district is anchored by an impressive 1,500-guest outdoor amphitheater, which serves as a converging point in the city. What in recent years had been an underutilized part of town is now bustling with a creative energy that is driving the restoration of historic buildings, new retail experiences, and investment in properties.
The return on the investment is the arts is high and meaningful for this city. It’s marked not only by the quantifiable numbers that reflect a positive impact on the economy, but by the evident vitality you see on the streets and in the dynamics of business and family life. Young people with entrepreneurial aspirations are returning home after college; filmmakers are repurposing abandoned spaces; artists from far corners of the world are putting down new roots; and city sidewalks and conference room tables are more diverse than ever.
The palpable sense of place and appreciation for history that one has always felt in Thomasville now carries with it something new: a collective creative identity that is bringing people together to design for the future.