By J.K. Devine
Photos courtesy Bowen Center for the Arts
Growing up with an architectural engineer for a father and a portrait artist for a mother, it is not surprising Ginny Greenwood has a keen eye for art.
So when she walked into the Bowen Center for the Arts in Dawsonville for the first time nearly 10 years ago, she stood in awe of the 1935 building located in a historical section of the city’s downtown.
“My husband and I did the same thing,” she said. “We stopped and looked around and gazed in awe.”
She said the 5,000-square-foot facility built with locally quarried rock in the 1930s and deemed “Old Rock School” as part of the Dawsonville High School complex had an aura surrounding it.
“The first time I walked in the door I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I can’t really describe it. You can feel it as an artist because you know how the building can show the art.”
Being an artist herself, Greenwood could imagine what it be like to have her abstract to illustrative pieces displayed in such a facility. But she never imagined she would work in it.
Luckily for her opportunity came knocking at her door.
Previously employed as a paralegal and office manager, Greenwood explained that the previous Bowen Center director encouraged her to apply for the position.
“I understood the administration tasks, and I knew about art exhibits and the art community,” she said.
Greenwood got the job as executive director of the Bowen Center. Now she works to bring more veteran and novice artists to the center and supports the art community in North Georgia and the surrounding region.
“Every year, nearly 50 percent to 70 percent of new artists are exhibiting here,” Greenwood said. “We are becoming a big name.”
Greenwood accomplishes this task by sponsoring various exhibits throughout the year. For example, in March the Bowen Center will sponsor a photography show featuring only the Appalachian Mountains with large prizes to draw in the artists.
“When you look at the photos, it’s like touring the Appalachian Mountains,” Greenwood said, explaining she places the photos throughout the center to create the best atmosphere for visitors. “I want them to see an angle they have never seen. I want them to see it from a different perspective.”
To achieve this, Greenwood uses her own creativity to display each work to its best advantage.
“All of my artistic expression can come out every day,” she said. “And I pamper my artists. I want them to make money and have funds to continue to create. I want them to have a venue to sell their work.”
Getting visitors to the Bowen to see and potentially purchase artwork is a major part of Greenwood’s job.
“Eighty percent of this job is marketing these exhibits and bringing the public in to view and enjoy the exhibits,” she said.
The remainder of her job involves interacting with the artistic community including the Bowen Center’s board of directors and its members. Greenwood said the Bowen can boast of more than 400 members.
“They are just so active,” Greenwood said. “I’ve never seen an art center so active and well supported. The members are enthusiastic.”
That enthusiasm is what led to the establishment of the Bowen Center for the Arts.
According to the Bowen Center’s website (www.bowenarts.org), the Dawson County Arts Council Inc. proposed to take over responsibility of the Old Rock School in October 1999 after hearing of plans to tear down the historic building.
Originally built using funds Dawson County received from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration and Civil Works Administration, the facility housed the Department of Vocational Agriculture, a canning plant and a mattress factory.
“For 25 cents, locals could purchase a new mattress if they could haul it away,” Greenwood said.
Since it was on the Dawson County school campus later, the building was used for several classes such as choir, band, shop and home economics. But when a new high school was built in the 1998, the school system no longer needed the building.
Arts Council President Grace Privette and other locals sprang into action to save the building and turn it into an arts center.
“They rallied community support for the rehabilitation,” Greenwood said. “Bowen Homes was the biggest contributor, and it brought in a lot of other companies with them.”
Greenwood said new walls, doors and floors were just a few of the renovations made. It was also made ADA compliant to allow for visitors with disabilities to easily maneuver through the facility.
Upon completion, the “Old Rock School” was dedicated on Sept. 7 and deemed the Ralph and Ludy Bowen Center for the Arts. It opened with its first art exhibit Oct. 1, 2000, the website said.
That same month the building became the permanent home of the Arts Council, which subsequently became the Bowen Center for the Arts.
Since that time, the center has evolved from being run by a volunteer workforce to employing a full-time executive director with a board of directors. Officers include president Barbara Vermillion, vice president Jeanne Tompkins, secretary Dub Anderson and treasurer Andrea McKenzie. Other board members are Jennifer Brinson, Mary Jo Cox, Vin Filosi, Shirley Hawkins, Hugh Holley, Warren King, Susan McDowell, Kathy Pate, Nicole Stewart, Melody Scott, Amanda Yenerall and Seani Zappendorf.
The executive director, its board and members maintain the facility through fundraisers such as an annual Monet Ladies Golf Tournament; The Artful Cork, a wine tasting with silent and live auctions; and an annual luncheon.
Tompkins, who lives in Gold Creek and serves as co-president, said the tournament attracts female golfers from all across the state.
“It is just for ladies and we have a lot of top golfers who want to be in it,” she said. “We get their registration money in February to hold their spots for the tournament in August.”
Tompkins explained the fundraisers along with donations help to maintain the building, which is no easy task.
“It’s very tactile,” she said, indicating the brick-and-mortar façade combined with rocks from the quarry. “Once it’s cold, it stays cold. And once it’s warm, it stays warm. So we work very hard to keep the building in good condition.”
The funding allows the Bowen Center to host exhibits and events including fine arts, quilts, ceramics, photography, juried events, workshops, festivals, concerts and chorales. Tompkins said the Georgia Watercolor Society books an exhibit at the Bowen every other year.
“Our quilt show, though, brings in more people than any other event,” she said. “We have people from neighboring states such as Texas who come to see the quilt show.”
But the Bowen Center is not for artists alone. It is active with civic and community groups, arts and literacy programs and animal rescue leagues.
The Bowen also hosts Summer Art Camps to teach new generations art theory and production. It also supports children’s programs through scholarships and school events.
These outreach programs are important for the community and the younger generation.
“It’s common knowledge that culture and artistic expression and exposure to these displays increases intelligence,” Greenwood said. “It’s important to have artists in the community. They reflect what they see in the community.”
Tompkins said she hopes the reputation of the Bowen Center will continue to grow, especially since she believes it feeds the soul.
“I think it provides a place where you can see beauty,” she said. “Every soul needs beauty.”