Smithgall Arts Center
The Smithgall Center for the Arts, operated by a local nonprofit called The Arts Council, is at the center of Gainesville’s arts and culture scene. It is a multidisciplinary space located in a former railway depot from 1914. Its small permanent art collection inside and sculptures by nationally known artists in the surrounding garden are only part of the wider art curriculum. Other attractions include the annual jazz season, theater productions and summer concerts. The Arts Council, Inc. serving Northeast Georgia. was originally founded in 1970 as the administrator and creator of a community art calendar and newsletter. Today it is one of the leading art organizations in Georgia. It promotes more than 30 regional arts affiliates, presents a wide range of performing, visual, literary and film programs, and offers many other services that also support its mission. The Arts Commission is financed by private individuals, communities, foundations, box office revenues and rental income from premises.
In the late 1960s, the Junior Service League of Gainesville commissioned a feasibility study to determine whether the community would benefit from an interdisciplinary arts organization. The research revealed both need and desire; therefore, the Arts Council was created with the help of the Georgia Arts Council in 1970 and incorporated in 1972. A small volunteer board led and managed the Arts Council primarily from their homes; including the home of Arts Council founder Lessie Smithgall. The main goal of the organization was to maintain a basic community calendar and reduce schedule conflicts to promote arts programs. The Arts Council moved its offices from homes to the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce building. In 1979, a part-time staff was hired, expanding the focus to providing programs and services for the specific needs of the community, members, and arts organizations. Headquartered in Elachee Cottage (now Chamber of Commerce parking lot) before moving home to Green Street Station in Gainesville. The station was shared with the Georgia Mountain History Museum (now the Northeast Georgia History Center), the Elachia Natural Science Center, and Georgia Mountain Crafts. By 1983, the board believed that a full-time, dedicated staff was truly necessary to fulfill the Arts Council’s mission. Gladys Wyant was hired as executive director and continues to lead the organization today. Don’t forget to check out this place in Gainesville too.
The Arts Commission’s support base and software expanded in the late 1980s, reflecting the diverse needs of communities. It was during this time that long-standing programs such as The Arts Council Pearce Series, Friends of the Arts, Arts Council affiliates and Arts in Schools began. In 1992, the Arts Council purchased 2.5 acres of land and a 1914 railroad depot in Gainesville’s central business district. After that acquisition, more than 400 community leaders and citizens helped contribute to the use and development of the property. Target groups envisioned a property that would serve as a catalyst for the renovation of a central business district that would be used to host arts programs and various community activities. The beautiful transformation from train depot to The Art Council Smithgall Arts Center was completed in May 1996. With this new asset, there was room to expand the program; Thus, the Intimate Jazz Series and the Summer MusicFest series were added. Visual arts were also added to provide exhibits from the Arts Council’s permanent collection, traveling exhibits such as Artists with Disabilities of Georgia, and a sculpture garden with permanent and rotating art. In the early 2000s, the First Methodist Church in downtown Gainesville was donated to the Arts Council, allowing the organization to offer even more arts programs. The total area is 35,000 square meters and it consists of three buildings and a two-story house. The Arts Council’s Performing Arts Complex continues to seek support to complete the Arts Council’s vision for these additional venues. If you are ever in need of home and steel works, click here.