Arts in Athens

Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? By combining talents and resources in the community, these intertwined arts assemblies in Athens have discovered how group dynamics enhance their inspiration and publicity. Drawing together artist and community, art collectives demonstrate the power of working together to create a unified product that has a broader reach, is more powerful and more effective than its parts.

The Athens Arts Collective

The Athens Arts Collective is a unified and hyper-connected assembly of arts organizations around Athens. Recently, many of these organizations—including the Georgia Museum of Art, ATHICA (Athens Institute for Contemporary Art), Treehouse Kid and Craft, the Lyndon House Arts Center, and Arrow—collaborated to organize “Come Together,” an event where children eagerly created crafts like stenciled patches, interactive maps and comic strips that celebrated the idea of community. An example of enduring community values in itself, this group of  arts enthusiasts inspires both young  and old through outreach and education, sustaining the local arts scene for the future.

A member of ATHICA’s board of directors and the PR director for the GMOA, Michael Lachowski said that one of the goals of these events is to entertain, but that inevitably, “We want all of our activities to connect back to the art.”

When asked about the benefits of working together as one group, the GMOA’s curator of education Carissa DiCindio said, “It just makes sense to do it that way.” Instead of competing to host events on the same days, community groups join together and combine resources.

Recalling how well the Athens art community accommodated the GMOA when its building temporarily closed for renovation, DiCindio said other organizations warmly extended their spaces and facilities so the museum could still host events, like its monthly Family Day event.  Similar community outreach events, like Third Thursday—a community event for visual art organized by six different art venues, such as Ciné and the Lamar Dodd School of Art—encourage participation from a wide spectrum of local participants—parents and children, townies and college students.  

One branch of the arts collective, Treehouse Kid and Craft—a quirky children’s crafts store on Broad Street—is a menagerie of imaginative and inspiring children’s products that also offers DIY workshops for kids and adults, such as puppet-making and stop-motion art.

“Collaborating in the arts scene at a young age and having a living artist as an instructor gives kids the idea that they can do that,” Bach said, and expressed her excitement about working with the same mix of arts organizations in the future.

“We’re all in this together,” Bach said. “If we don’t come together as a community, it doesn’t work.”

The Birdhouse Collective

Like the Elephant 6 Collective of Athens’ past, musicians often bond naturally out of the proximity of a cramped music town like Athens. With bands clamoring to make a name for themselves in Athens’ diverse music scene, sometimes it takes coming together to stand apart.

Several members of The Birdhouse Collective—a prodigious mélange of Athens musical talent, including members from Pretty Bird, Tree Spirit, Muuy Biien, k i d s, and Cottonmouth—gathered around equipment outside Go Bar, after a set from their pals Rituals. The sense of camaraderie was evident as they chimed in one after the other, expressing how the group is flourishing, “like a rocket about to explode,” since serendipitously coming together in a tiny single-bedroom house.

“We’re lucky that it happened the way it did,” said David Chandler, frontman of Pretty Bird.

The musicians used their group dynamic to inspire each other and enhance their musicianship as individuals, holding house recording sessions to combine talents on projects.

“We’re all parts of an even pie chart,” said Xander Witt, bassist for Muuy Biien.

Although the group doesn’t live together any more, they are still close and continue to collaborate, many of them, notably Cotton Mouth, Muuy Biien, and Pretty Bird, releasing stellar new material.

“Artists as Community” is a similar collective of like-minded musicians, though connected by the bonds of social media. Formed by Chris Szkoda, a musician with ties in Atlanta and Athens, the collective is Szkoda’s response to a scene with “no overarching sense of community amongst the bands involved.”  

“It’s easy to remain under the radar, regardless of how much effort you put in,” said Szkoda. “There’s now this consensus that music is commonplace. Everything has become so devalued that even giving away free downloads isn’t enough anymore.”

Through social media like Facebook and Bandcamp, Szkoda crafted a forum for bands to post new music and information about impending shows. “I’ve always wanted to bring attention to the musicians I know,” said Szkoda. “Leaving it open-ended and in the artists’ hands felt like the right choice.”

The Birdhouse Collective has also learned the importance of creative packaging to garner publicity, releasing their second song swap, “a compilation of new, individual tracks that no one has ever heard before,” said Tree Spirit’s Valerie Lynch, along with a “sexy calendar” featuring different musicians from the collective and close friends, like The Rodney Kings.

On the benefits of close collaboration, Chandler said, “It’s the same as being in a relationship. You share a space and you grow together.”

The Athens Fashion Collective

The crowd at the Georgia Theatre went silent as white lights illuminated the first line of models, displaying sculptural headpieces, in the Athens Fashion Collective’s fall 2012 show. Like some assemblage out of an Alexander McQueen look-book, the models glared out into the audience, one an Aphrodite in a Grecian seafoam-green dress and vibrant confetti headpiece and another with rustic foliage sprouting from her body.

AFC’s creative director, Maggie Benoit, surveyed the show from the Georgia Theatre balcony.  Benoit helped to start the Athens Fashion Collective in the fall of 2010 along with arts student Rachel Barnes and Sanni Baumgartner, the owner of sustainable fashion boutique Community. Barnes worked with the runway models, Baumgartner designed many of the clothes and Benoit coordinated production.

“With each production, we work with a slew of artists and local businesses, be it clothing and jewelry designers, visual artists, musicians, local business owners, to boutiques, university organizations and students” said Benoit via email.

Baumgartner—whose richly-hued Community Service fashion line had models pivoting on stage like the cogs of a well-oiled clock–explained, “That’s what the Athens Fashion Collective does well. We’re all great connectors. We love connecting with other people and with other local businesses from the community. I feel that’s what Athens needs. More of the collaboration than the competition.”

The fashion elements were complemented by a bevy of musical talent, including rockers Grass Giraffes, the soaring falsettos of Powerkompany, spooky visuals from geisha duo Harouki Zombie, and the brooding vocals of Thayer Serrano. The jam-packed fashion show also included aerial performances from Canopy Studio and a historic dress exhibit from Agora Vintage.

Meredith Thornhill, another integral part of the collective that organizes fashion and event production, said that the show did a great job of demonstrating “fashion as art” and embodying the theme, which was “expressing yourself, whether through art or movement.”

For future projects, Baumgartner said that she wanted to integrate some art and fashion elements into a new music festival called Slingshot in early March. She is also collaborating with the Georgia Museum of Art on a spring fashion show with a focus on sustainable fashion.

The community collaboration is something Thornhill describes as “interconnected—how so many things are in Athens.”

Benoit agreed, saying that it’s all about the support. “The excitement from the community and the willingness of individuals to get involved has been a reassurance that AFC is doing something that Athens is hungry for,” said Benoit.