York’s support for arts grabs attention

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2005

All too often people see the arts as a liability that can only flourish if they put their support behind it. However, there is a bigger picture. If people are able to see far enough down the road the arts have a way of returning the favor.

In York, the city government and concerned citizens have seen the big picture and now it is paying dividends. York’s artistic movement has been steadily gaining steam and it has gotten a lot of attention locally. As the movement has gained interest it has branched out nationally. People from all over the country are now coming to see what most Sumter Countians and Black Belt residents already knew. York is a very special place full of very special people.

John Brown, who grew up in York and teaches piano and voice in a studio in the revitalized area, is one of the many people who helped York open its creative avenues. Brown said seeing the empty buildings in their town upset many residents and they decided to take a positive step toward revitalization.

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“All these little shops were abandoned,” Brown said. “We got together and decided something needed to be done.”

Fellow artist Linda Munoz, who works with glass in many different ways to produce crafts, had a similar desire to help and a need for a place to perform her arts.

“Some of these places were abandoned and had not had anything in them for a while,” Munoz said. “I was looking for a place. I was working out of my home at the time. I knew I needed a lot more space and John was teaching music in his home and needed more space as well. We decided to bid on the buildings.”

The plan was in place, but there would be a temporary roadblock. Unfortunately, Roderick Pompey who is a businessman out of Birmingham, beat them to the punch. Brown and Munoz were devastated at first. However, things have a way of working out. Pompey’s deal did not go through and they were back in business.

“We were crushed,” Brown said. “We were so depressed it wasn’t even funny. Then it turned out the deal did not go through and we had to bid again. We got the buildings and we were so excited.”

The deal was finalized last May and things could not have gone better since that time. Slowly, but surely, the word began to spread and curiosity brought people to the shops. After that it was almost like a domino effect as people from all over have decided to make the trip to York to see what all the fuss is about.

“We have had groups coming in from Chattanooga and Memphis and all over the place,” Brown said. “We have had people come in from Louisiana and a lot of local people too. We are so excited to see a reaction like that.”

Munoz said the art movement had a very good catalyst to get them started. The Coleman Center for the Arts provided yet another good resource for the artists to build on.

“A lot of this is extending off the Coleman Center,” Munoz said. “The Coleman Center has been great. It has just blossomed in the past year. Because of that we have had a lot of artists come in here from many other areas.”

Munoz said the city has also been pivotal in helping the artists get comfortable. Without the support of the city, this would not have been an easy transition.

“The city has been incredibly supportive of us,” Munoz said. “Mayor Carolyn Mitchell Gosa has just been awesome. She has been totally behind all the volunteers by encouraging us. She has really been behind us 100 percent.”

The artists have shown their gratitude by giving back to the community in many ways. One way has been to inspire others to open stores in the area. Already, another antique store has opened up. There is also another abandoned building people are looking to move into. Someone has even discussed putting a blues caf/ in the area.

They also work to bring arts into the educational system to give students another option. Munoz teaches art in the public and private school system.

The artists have even helped stroke victims and other people with health problems develop a hobby by giving them something to keep their minds off their illness and on something fun and productive.

At the same time, they have gotten attention for the city from Alabama Public Television and other media outlets, which have given the city a tourism aspect they did not have before.

Brown said all the city has accomplished is a strong argument for people to get involved in the arts.

“We are just so excited,” Brown said. “People ask a lot of times “why should we fund the arts?” Well, this is a good reason right here. We have brought revenue, there are people interested in other businesses around here now too.”

The movement has spread thanks to local artists and local interest and it is plain to see. There are now displays all over the area and even displays at the local library. For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting the “new” York, you may find them in their shops most any Saturday after 11 a.m. Don’t be shy, they will greet all visitors with open arms.