Supporting the arts is a family affair for Linda Parish. She brought her grandson to the Art Makes Sense exhibit at the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce to see his artwork on display. Andrew’s second grade class worked on a painting and a ceramic bowl for the auction.
“I made those dots. I made them with my thumb,” he proudly told his grandmother.
His participation and enthusiasm are particularly special for Parish. The former interior designer is passionate about supporting the arts. Parish is also the Tourism and Hospitality Director for the Oglethorpe County Chamber of Commerce, and she is using her position to make a difference. The Chamber of Commerce is partnering with local schools for its second annual Art Makes Sense student art exhibit and auction. In its first year, the event raised $4,000.
“It really is incredible,” said Chip Rosenthal, who is volunteering at the event again this year. “We made so much money by featuring the kids from right here in our own neighborhood.”
The Chamber of Commerce was able to give four local schools $1,000 each from the event in 2016. Parish is hoping to give even more this year.
“The students are excited to participate, and the teachers work so hard to make the event a success,” said Parish. “Getting these children engaged in the arts and active in supporting them when they are young is so important.”
Arts funding in Georgia has been dramatically decreasing since 2011. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reports that, in 2016, Georgia had the smallest total legislative appropriation for the arts compared to other southern states. Georgia only set aside $903,360 from the $21.8 billion budget. On the other end of the spectrum, Florida allotted $36,966,322, the most money of any southern state and almost 40 times more than Georgia.
The small budget in Georgia could explain why art education in the state is lacking. The Georgia Council for the Arts finds that 40 percent of state schools have an art curriculum that needs improvement or do not offer visual art instruction at all. Oglethorpe County is one such county in need of improvement, and Parish hopes her work will help offset the budget deficit.
On Feb. 16, visitors will be able to bid on more than 100 paintings, pieces of jewelry and pottery created and donated by Oglethorpe County students. The works of art range from group projects produced by primary and elementary school students to paintings submitted by individual middle and high school students.
The exhibit has been open since Jan. 26. Visitors and volunteers like Rosenthal already have their eye on pieces, and some have even placed opening bids on their favorites.
“I’ll just wander around and see something new every time I go through the room,” said Rosenthal. “This artwork is something special.”
Parish, Rosenthal and the other volunteers working to make Art Makes Sense a success hope to see the event grow in future years and spread to neighboring counties. They believe, if they can keep students invested, the arts in local schools will always find support.