Imagine, What's in a Name?

As seen in The News Courier  on Sunday, Feb. 27,2011.

by Diane Lehr

Imagine a picturesque downtown square lined with perfectly restored historic buildings filled upstairs and down with charming gift shops, working artists’ studios, antique stores, clothiers, offices, hair salons, loft apartments, bookstores, and delightful restaurants. Locals smile and wave to one another as they pass on the street while admiring the architectural grandeur of the Courthouse that represents a rich history and the current laws that protect the citizens who call this community home. Laughter fills the air and mingles with the soothing voices of mother’s telling their children to ‘take this money and go buy your self only one piece of candy.’ People are ducking in and out of shops while teenagers hang out with friends walking the square in search of a flirtation or two. Dusk falls and the downtown rooftops outlined in white lights, present a unique city scape, while storefront windows sparkle. The lampposts on the streets glow to life and the restaurants and artist studios hum with the sounds of the evening.

This may seem like a scene from a dream called ’too good to be true,’ but it is the ambition of many in Athens to see this whole picture come to life for future generations to enjoy. The vision is one of a progressive small Southern art town and there are non profit organizations and local downtown businesses working to capture that title for this area right now. The vision allows Athens to retain the southern charm and small town ways long forgotten in other cities that lost their heritage in favor of white bread progress. Savvy small art towns realize that by incorporating something splendid as they grow, they move the community forward in a splendid way. This sort of town will offer tourists and residents a glimpse of the past while enjoying modern cultural events right in the heart of their own community. Visitors might wish to spend their Saturday in Athens shopping for clothing or antiquities, admiring public art, reading in a bookstore, listening to music, attending a festival or simply watching people walk by. Athens' visionaries wish to attract rocket scientists, eccentric artsy types, life long learners, and mainstream middle class Americans who deeply love historic small towns.

Much can be said of Athens' future when you think of the origin of its’ name. Athens, Greece was once the center of enlightened intellect. It was a place that welcomed diverse people as long as those people were willing to live within the law. This allowed ancient Athenians the opportunity to excel in any direction they chose. Individuality, as ancient Greeks believed, was the basis of their success as a society. Although many of them strove to be the strongest athletes, and most memorable political orators, others ventured into philosophy, drama, pottery, poetry and the arts in general. One of the most important concepts that the ancient Greeks followed, was inscribed on the great shrine at Delphi,’Know Thyself.” This basic tenet led to Athens, Greece being one of the first societies in ancient times to encourage independent thought and ultimately democracy.

Some small towns have a reputation for being boring, immovable, outdated and cliquish.
These small towns are resistant to anything new. They yawn as their downtown districts fade away. They attend art events in other places and disregard ideas of such nonsense at home.

Tapping into the valuable resources that exist here and supporting the long time quality businesses that are the mainstays in Athens, are ways to achieve positive growth, as growth is inevitable.
Limestone County already has a cultural wellspring living amidst the rivers, lakes, hills and fields, from which to draw. Talented musicians, writers, actors, photographers, painters, ceramicists, sculptors, and more live in the area. Educators at Athens State University desire to connect and assist local citizens in the positive educational growth of the community. Dedicated volunteers stand ready to serve with their time and talents. Long time citizens, local politicians, and new transplants to Limestone County see the potential and know that growth is happening now.

The question is ‘how will we grow?’

Small towns have been reborn and jobs created as the result of the persistence of historic preservation blended with art minded citizens pushing forward the cultural psyche of small town communities across the nation.

While Athenians hold tight to the love of Athens as a small town in order to avoid the hassle of big town overload, so must Athenians seek out solid solutions to preserve their local heritage while continuing to create splendid cultural opportunities right in this community.

Local cultural events in Athens

Athens State University
March 8
Natalie Chanin - Concert Lecture
7:00 p.m.
The Ballroom
Free and open to the public

Alabamian Natalie Chanin has a degree in Environmental Design from North Carolina State University. For twenty years she lived both here and abroad, working as designer. She has made documentary films, is a mother of two, and an avid gardener. In 2000, Natalie returned to her
southern roots to develop Alabama Chanin, a lifestyle company that focuses on creating an array of products while emphasizing slow design and sustainability.

Art On the Square presents:
Dessert with The Divas- Athens State University Parlor
May 1
Vocalist Tonya Williams will perform an opera and spirituals program with piano accompaniment, and The News Courier Editor, Kelly Kazek will read a few selections from her novel, Fairly Odd Mother.  A dessert buffet will be provided. Tickets are $20.

Art Camp for children- June 2011 (grades 1-6)
Further information to follow.

Art On the Square Art Fest
Downtown Athens, Alabama
September 10

Thousands attend this free juried fine arts festival in downtown Athens. Approximately 50 visual artists are selected to participate and sell their works on the grounds around the Courthouse. The Douthit KidsZone offers over 20 hands on art activities for all children and is always free.
AOTS has added the professional Wood and Strings Puppet Theatre for 2011, This professional performance art troupe has played to audiences all over the country including to sold out, standing room only crowds at National Geographic Live, in Washington DC. They will perform Out of The Midst, A Dragon.  For more information, visit www.aots-athens.com or email artonthesquare@hotmail.com.

For more local cultural events information check out

Art classes can be found @ Center For Lifelong Learning-
256-233-8261 or visit www.athens.edu/CLL.

 Carole Foret Fine Art Gallery-art classes

Art On the Square Arts League was created by a dedicated group of volunteers over 6 years ago to support local and regional artists, promote art education, and to bring cultural events to Athens, Alabama. Over the last six years the non profit organization has grown to be an integral part of the Athens community as the festival held each September in downtown Athens draws thousands to the area.