By John Schaffner

Three entrenched Sandy Springs arts groups were paired with three new arts initiatives for a two-hour program Feb. 25 on the state of the arts in the city, sponsored by the Sandy Springs Civic Round Table.

There were a lot of new arts developments in the works to discuss — from planning for the development of a 400- to 500-seat performing arts center to a month-long arts “extravaganza” scheduled in the city this spring.

Even three stalwart organizations — the Benson Senior Center, Heritage Sandy Springs (HSS) and the Abernathy Arts Center — had new offerings to discuss with the 35 residents and representatives of civic groups who attended the evening meeting at Fulton County’s North Annex building on Roswell Road.

Jim Anderson, representing the Sandy Springs Arts Alliance on the panel of six, said the Sandy Springs Revitalization organization, of which the Arts Alliance has been part, needed to find a new mission — other than streetscapes — and leave the construction work to the city.

He said the new focus of the organization is to bring a world-class, indoor performing arts center to Sandy Springs’ downtown area. Anderson said Sandy Springs has lacked a focus on the arts. “We need it to fulfill our soul,” he stated.

Following panelists’ presentations, those attending divided into three groups with the panelists to discuss three topics: What kind of artistic performances would they pay to hear or see? How would they either benefit from cultural arts programs or get involved with them? Where would they like to see a cultural center located?

Arts preferences voiced

Most of the audience wanted a facility in the town center of Sandy Springs, near Target on Johnson Ferry Road, and close to public transportation. They prefer a variety of performance programming, including children’s performances and local groups. They said ticket prices should be $50-$75.

Estimating a $10 million price tag for the type of facility he envisions, Anderson said planning is in the very early stages. He said the Sandy Springs Arts Alliance will sponsor an all-day Blues and Bluegrass concert on Oct. 18 to highlight the performing arts center proposal.

Panelist Wanda Buckley, the founder of Artonomous, said her focus is on “bricks and mortar. It is all about raising the money” — the $10 million for the performing arts center building. She would like to see developers donate the land for the center.

ARTSS chair Jan Collins, who made the turtle statues a symbol for the new city and leads ARTSS volunteers in promoting arts around the city, shares in that mission. ARTSS is an acronym for Art Sandy Springs, but also has become the acronym for ARTSSpring, the month of arts activities scheduled in the city from April 17 through May 17 this year.

Andre Gregory represented the Benson Center on the program, pointing out that it is the largest day facility for seniors in the country and has 5,000 registered participants. He also claimed it has the largest program in the arts. He said the programs are free and open to Fulton County residents age 55 and older.

Groups expand programs

Gregory said the center has classes and activities in a wide range of arts, from basket weaving to sculpture work and painting. The center is instituting a Benson Day of Art program, with a daytime and evening program during May.

The Benson Senior Center also wants to build a small art gallery at the facility, Gregory said.

Carol Thompson, executive director of HSS, said her group plans to add a couple of new programs this year, while working on expanding existing programs.

The Abernathy Arts Center, represented by Ellen Stein, a late replacement who gave a brief description of the facility, which provides classes for adults and students, work areas and an art gallery for monthly exhibits. The center is the oldest art center in Fulton County.