Small town’s story-telling tradition

By Janet Sanders

Colquitt, Georgia, is a demonstration of human development and creativity. After being regaled by its stories, my husband Richard Sims and I wandered into this southern town of about 2,000 people seven years ago. We were delighted and amazed by the charm and creativity of the community, now a cultural tourism destination that draws about 55,000 visitors from across the US each year. The tradition began 20 years ago when the town council put on plays based on the stories of the community. Every year, about 100 volunteer actors, under the guidance of a professional playwright and director, put on original folk life plays featuring original and traditional music that draw the crowds  and keep them enthralled.

At Cotton Hall, where the plays are staged, is a Storytelling Museum with exhibits recalling the life of the town’s early farming communities. Around down town are 15 “Big Pictures” painted by professional muralists that tell many of the plays’ stories. After-school programs and an annual summer youth theatre event make the arts come alive for young children.

Another attraction is an annual gathering celebrating the creative leadership of communities all over the world. It was launched 10 years ago by Joy Jinks and Karen Kimbrel, who had been conducting workshops all over the US on community and economic development using the arts, culture and history.  They decided that people should come to “The Swamp” to meet its leaders and experience the power of place and story-telling in Colquitt. They organized a conference to motivate, encourage, empower and inspire community advocates by sharing ideas, learning new skills, and fostering positive change. Joy is also the author of a book featured in this issue (see article in the Books section: Re-firing your life after 60).

The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) has deep roots in Colquitt. Joy and her husband Clyde were ICA colleagues for over 40 years while Bill and Nancy Grow lived there for several years. The town was on the “circuit route” of various ICA program staff. Elise Packard recently conducted an Imaginal Education Lab here as well. Others, like me, take part in or conduct events at Colquitt’s annual gatherings.

Since my first visit, I have returned to the town every year for this event, which represents a coming together of the arts and community participation. The 10th Building Creative Communities Conference: the Art of Story, Community Building and Social Change will be held on January 28-31, 2016. I will be leading two workshops before and after the event. The first, on social artistry, will be on Jan 27th and 29th. It trains participants in employing latent human capacities at the sensory and physical level, the psychological and relational level, mythic and symbolic, and spiritual levels. The second, an introduction to Train the Trainer, will be held from Feb 1 to 6th. It deals with capacities such as speaking skills and natural presence with a group; creating environments for accelerated learning; and creating and sustaining a teaching/learning community.

For further information on the community, conference and social artistry, go to www.bccconference-colquittga.com

Janet Sanders jansanders5@gmail.com is a facilitator, program designer, project manager and trainer with 30 years of international experience with the Institute of Cultural Affairs.

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