Macon Arts Alliance lands $100K NEA grant for COVID-19 relief

Macon Arts is one of 567 organizations divvying up nearly $58 million in American Rescue Plan funds


Liz Fabian

The Macon Arts Alliance gallery at 486 First St. could soon be open Saturdays to lure business from guests staying at Hotel 45 down the street.

Macon Arts Alliance Executive Director Julie Wilkerson was all smiles Thursday afternoon as she shared great news with her board of directors. The umbrella organization that fosters the arts in Middle Georgia has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, or NEA.

The federal funding for Macon Arts comes from nearly $58 million in American Rescue Plan money earmarked to help the arts and cultural sector in its pandemic recovery.

NEA chairwoman Maria Rosario Jackson said the nation’s arts community has been among the hardest hit by the effects of COVID-19.

“The arts are crucial to helping America’s communities heal, unite, and inspire as well as essential to our nation’s economic recovery,” Jackson said in the NEA’s news release announcing the grants.

Macon Arts Alliance Project Director J.R. Olive applied for the grant in the summer. Although Olive is out on paternity leave, he joined Thursday’s meeting via Zoom to make the announcement.

“I’m super excited about it,” Olive said. “I think that puts us in a really good position.”

Plans for the funding include hiring a curator for exhibits at the gallery and paying part of the rent and utilities for the next two years.

Wilkerson echoed Olive’s sentiment.

“We are pleased,” Wilkerson said. “I think it speaks to the importance of the arts… and Macon-Bibb’s plans to rebuild the arts sector.”

Wilkerson also hopes to be able to open the First Street gallery on Saturdays after next week’s opening of Hotel 45 just down the street.

Amphitheater on the horizon

Wilkerson is particularly enthusiastic about the anticipated construction of an amphitheater at Macon Mall. She recently traveled to Huntsville, Ala., with Mayor Lester Miller, county leaders and tourism representatives to tour an amphitheater built on land that once housed a similar shopping mall.

“It was really nice to hear them talk about the results of their music study,” Wilkerson said. “I think everybody went away from that feeling like we were on the right track.”

Downtown Challenge grant funds will pay for the first two phases of Macon’s music study.

In the coming weeks, an audit of Macon’s music economy will be conducted and the potential for the music industry to be an economic driver also will be studied.

Visit Macon has prioritized making Macon a “true music city” by spotlighting the city’s music heritage, encouraging tourism and fostering future growth in music opportunities.

The upcoming music survey will also pinpoint where the potential audience for the amphitheater will come from.

The study compliments the Cultural Plan for Macon-Bibb County and will examine what changes might be necessary in code enforcement and zoning to accommodate live music on the mall property between Eisenhower Parkway and Mercer University Drive.

Wilkerson is enthusiastic about stakeholders coming together to forge an exciting entertainment future for the region.

Macon Arts also is awaiting word from the Georgia Council for the Arts as to whether they will be awarded a state grant to further its mission.

After 7,500 entities applied for the NEA grants, Wilkerson was extremely proud to have received the $100,000.

The national endowment awarded nine grants in Georgia totalling $900,000.

Macon’s award and $50,000 for the Jessye Norman School of the The Arts in Augusta were the only two grants outside of Atlanta.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or by phoning 478-301-2976.