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Artistry Abounds in Athens-Limestone County, AL

Here, creatives can take their talent to the next level, thanks to the community's outstanding support and array of opportunities.

By Val Hunt Beerbower on December 3, 2021

Sara Ogles, owner of That’s SO Art in Athens, AL
Irene Kennedy/Zoë Photographía

The arts – and the culture that surrounds them – are more than hobbies in Athens-Limestone County; they’re a way of living and a way to make a living. And thanks to the robust support and myriad outlets available in the community, any artist, whether in the visual or performing realm, can take their talents to the next level.

Art in Athens is more than just cultural stimulation in the region; it’s a foundation of entrepreneurship. Since 2006, the Athens Arts League has supported artists by providing art education and bringing cultural events to the region.

“If you’ve got a true artist on your side, you’ve got a loyal, passionate, empathetic human being who is ready and willing to fill the needs of the community, whatever they might be.”

Sara Ogles | That’s SO Art

A Space to Grow Creatively

More recently, the league established High Cotton Arts on Washington Street in Athens to provide space for burgeoning artists to grow. “Inside High Cotton Arts, you will find photography, paintings, stained glass, wood sculptures, gift items and painting classes,” says Diane Lehr, vice president of the Athens Arts League Board of Directors.

Here, visual artists can find studio space and support to nurture their craft into a defined business, and performing artists will soon have their own space, as well.

“The Athens Arts League also plans to complete work on The Scout House on Washington Street in order to have a dedicated music center that will provide students the opportunity to create, record and perform music,” Lehr says. “There will also be intimate concerts provided for the public at Scout House, and volunteer students will learn all aspects of producing a concert, from the public relations to the setup.”

Turning Passion into Profession

Transforming a passion into a profession can be tough to navigate, and Sara Ogles, owner and artist at That’s SO Art studio in Athens, can tell you firsthand. Her career and creative drive intersected several times over the course of her life before the stars aligned one day, and an opportunity to do both at a manageable pace presented itself.

“We were presented the option to buy a historic Athens location to turn it into a studio downtown, and I was offered a part-time design/product position for a company in Athens working 20 hours a week. The job offer came from the first company that bought a branding and website package from me years before when I was a freelancer, so it was a no-brainer. We said yes to both,” Ogles says.

Today, Ogles sells her watercolor artwork from her brick-and-mortar location downtown, and she continues to fulfill online orders for products purchased online. Ogles says art contributes more than just beauty to a community. Artists are creative problem-solvers ready to jump in and help the community.

“I’ve found that, generally, artists feel deeply and are passionate about so many things that art is just our delivery vehicle,” she says.

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Alabama Center for the Arts

Strong Foundations in Northern Alabama

The Alabama Center for the Arts serves as a hub for creative engagement and learning. Located in downtown Decatur, the center is the result of a partnership between Calhoun Community College, Athens State University and the City of Decatur.

The center offers classes and programming for students, but it is also accessible to other members of the community. Programming is available to anyone looking to broaden his or her creative horizons, and it has expanded its arts education to underserved populations, enhancing the civic and cultural vibrancy of the entire community.

The center was proposed in 2008 by Robert Glenn, the newly installed president of Athens State University at that time. It was a focal point for the Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority’s five-year strategic plan for the redevelopment of downtown. The fine arts school was sought as an economic driver. Phase I of this project, the 44,000-square-foot visual arts building, opened in 2012.

Athens State University, Calhoun Community College, the City of Decatur and Morgan County contributed to the property’s $10 million investment. In 2016, the performing arts building – a 44,000-square-foot facility – opened its classrooms, labs, a black-box theater, a studio, rehearsal rooms, a keyboard room and offices for faculty and staff.

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