For 13 years, the Georgia Heritage Center for the Arts in Tallulah Falls has been a unique kind of art studio, providing a space where artists can interact with the public while they work.
But this summer, the center’s partnership with Georgia Power, which has been providing the space to the artists for a small fee each month, will end. In need of a major renovation, the building will be turned over to a new tenant later this year that will justify the expenditures for the repair work, said Deb Goatcher, executive Director of the Georgia Heritage Foundation, which plans to continue to lease the building until July.
"They’ve agreed to repurpose the building rather than have our fairly small group in there," Goatcher said. "We are in support of this — as much as we hate it for us — we are very much in support of this. Anything that’s good for the economy of North Georgia is good for the artists of North Georgia.
"What it means, though, is we need to find a new space for our gallery."
There are now about 50 demonstrating artists at the center who volunteer their time to help run it. There is also a staff of eight, including Goatcher, who run the business side of the nonprofit center.
But what makes the Heritage Center unique is that it is also an interactive art experience.
The demonstrating artists who use the center as their studio work in a space that’s also open to the public, so visitors can stop to watch a potter at work, or see up close how a stained-glass artist works with a soldering iron.
"We’re nonprofit, but we’re willing to take any Georgia artists. We are a place for fostering either new artists or artists new to the area, and any skill level, for that matter," Goatcher said. "It’s remarkable for us to see people who have formed a long-term relationship with them; to see the artists act as nurturers to the new artists and to see others who come in with no confidence level in their artwork to move up the scale."
It’s rewarding for the artists, she said, to have interaction with the public and be able to explain their work.
Patti Petit, a clay artist from Cleveland, can be found on Mondays at the center making both decorative and functional pieces. She said she enjoys the ability to interact with the public as she does her work.
"We’ll answer questions and show people. Sometimes, if there’s little children there, we’ll encourage them to play with the material."
Every day, she said, different artists will be working in their mediums. They also learn from each other.
"I’m with my people there," she said. "It’s a community; we’re a family. We bounce ideas off each other, we encourage each other, we learn from each other."
Heritage Center staff is preparing to move July 1, which is also the beginning of the nonprofit’s fiscal year, but Goatcher said that date is still "soft" depending on the timeline of the new tenant and repairs to be made.
Ideally, the center will be able to find another building, in or near Tallulah Falls, that’s about 3,000 square feet and charges little for rent.
"We love Tallulah Falls; we love the Tallulah Falls community," Goatcher said. "And because we are part of the growth of the community, we want to be tied closely to that. But knowing what we’re looking for, we’re open to other ideas.
"We’re casting a wide net and seeing what’s coming up."
Jaymi Hampton, director of the Heritage Center’s board, said in an e-mail to The Times that the process of finding a new home is still in the works, but in the meantime regular programs are continuing, along with special events such as the annual Northeast Georgia Arts tour.
This year the tour to different artists’ home studios travels through Rabun, Habersham, While and Lumpkin counties.
"Obviously this was meant to be. We are looking at this as another great adventure as we have approached every year since starting (Georgia Heritage Center for the Arts) in 1998," she said.