City's cultural calendar is brimming with activity

Georgia Health Sciences University President Ricardo Azziz brings up an interesting question about our arts community ("Augusta lacks 'cool factor' for recruits, Azziz says," June 6).

Many companies are recruiting young professionals to work in Augusta. How do we present our cultural offerings? How do we look to mature professionals coming to town? Do we need to work on our "cool" factor? Are we programming events that invite a wide cross-section of the community to attend?

There are so many answers to these questions. Whenever I am confronted with comments about a lacking arts community, I like to first ascertain what the accuser knows about our cultural calendar.

ON FIRST REFLECTION, I can't imagine what we are not doing in Augusta. Access to information is simple. The Greater Augusta Arts Council coordinates a complete cultural calendar. We have an Augusta State University intern dedicated to making sure that every event we know about is entered on the calendar, with links for ticket purchase and numbers to call for information.

Two years ago Perry Broadcasting donated a weekly radio show dedicated to Augusta arts. Each week I talk about a variety of events happening that weekend, I interview an artist or person who "works hard to make your playing easy," then talk about upcoming events. Arts Weekly airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 on WAEG-FM (92.3)92.3. You also can listen to the podcast on our website, or subscribe on iTunes or Zune. The podcasts have just passed our calendar as the most popular download on our website.

Quick -- name three places you can watch indie or foreign films. Can you? I can:

- The ASU Film Series runs the entire school year.

- The Morris Museum of Art programmed the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, with the bonus of the filmmaker at every screening, available to introduce the film and answer questions at the end.

- The Augusta Library is producing a foreign film series this summer.

In addition, Augusta Amusements screens movies with a bonus, a musical performance or an original actor, we usually get to walk the red carpet on arrival -- loads of campy fun.

Columbia County and the city of Augusta screen outdoor, family-type movies during the summer.

WHAT ELSE? OUTDOOR concerts perhaps. In the past few weeks I spent a day at the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, two days at the Banjo-B-Que in North Augusta, and I love the Candlelight Jazz Concerts on the Eighth Street bulkhead on Sunday nights. I bring a camp chair, a folding table, some food and a bottle of wine. It's a perfect way to end a weekend. And I almost squeezed in the Mudbugabeaux-N-Brew Festival recently but just didn't get there this year.

The summer concerts continue on Mondays at Hopeland Gardens and Tuesdays at the Applebee Library. All three offer a diverse selection of music.

Downtown Augusta has a wide variety of live music venues. Sky City, with its great stage in the back room, consistently is bringing in a wide variety of local and regional musicians. The Cotton Patch has a summer patio series every Friday and Saturday night. There's a wide range of bars with diverse entertainment; surely some of it has to appeal!

If community theater lights your fire we have numerous theater groups programming everything from traditional musicals and avant-garde to religious, children, youth and the Broadway Series at the Bell. Le Chat Noir , the intimate theatre on Eighth Street, is the home to Schrodinger's Cat an improv group whose shows are open to the public every First Friday. Reserve your tickets early -- at 88 seats the shows sell out fast! Also, Steve Walpert produces a great series for the Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre.

OVER THE PAST 15 years, I've spoken to numerous people about the arts, what turns them on and what makes them happy. It boils down to this: There is no set answer to what is "cool" about art or art preference. Isn't that cool?

One of my dearest friends and board members back in the 1990s was Joe Konzelman -- "Dr. Joe." He was a professor of dentistry at the then-Medical College of Georgia. He was active on my board and attended many arts events in town. Dr. Joe thought barbershop harmony was cool. He sang with the Garden City Chorus and found a home in Augusta with that organization.

I know what my "cool" is. I love to walk through museums. I love to hear artists speak. I get to do this at the Morris Museum of Art, the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, the Mary Bird Gallery at ASU, the galleries of Artists Row and periodically at Paine College and the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

Of course, that's not all I enjoy. I like going to the Symphony Pops series. I like indie films, and outdoor concerts call my name -- actually just about any type of music appeals in the outdoor setting.

I'm willing to try new things. I've taken African drum lessons from Not Gaddy; attended Misfit Theatre for a late-night production in a bar; jumped onstage for a try at improv; and judged Augusta Idol .

I love Augusta. I love the ease of commuting. I love our temperate climate. I think I've adjusted to our summer weather, and our mild winters are a pleasure. I always hated walking on ice.

WE HAVE A WIDE variety of events; many are free or so affordable I can gather the loose change from the couch cushions and enjoy an evening out. I think the arts and cultural community is incredibly hard-working, innovative and professional. I'm sure that if we can identify what we're missing, we'll work together to fix it.

I do have some suggestions for people new to our community. It's easy to find out what's going on. In addition to the Arts Council website, most organizations have newsletter sign-up forms on their websites. Sign up. If you go to a gallery or show, put your name in the book. You'll be added to invitation lists and special announcements.

Open yourself up to receive information. Listen to local radio, read The Augusta Chronicle and the Metro Spirit . Pick up Verge, Skirt! and other local publications and get to know them. Read ads, listen to commercials, hit the hotlinks and "like" us on Facebook. I am sure we can keep you as busy and involved as you are willing to dedicate to being entertained.

The arts and cultural community is always looking for new audiences, board members, volunteers and great ideas. Jump in. If you think we're missing the boat on a certain area of programming, let me know.

(The writer is executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council.)

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