OUR VIEW: Small towns need local art

Published 11:30 am Saturday, September 16, 2023

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Small towns are sprinkled across our country, particularly in the rural South, concealing rustic beauty in their historic infrastructure and individual style. Anyone who visits a small destination town will be welcomed by local, homemade wares and goods. Cruising through downtown, there will probably be handmade jewelry in the storefronts and handpainted signage passed down for generations. 

That’s part of the charm that keeps us patronizing local businesses in small towns. We like to feel like we know the people who mixed the soap or canned the jam. Visitors will also most likely get a nice view of local artists and artisans who have made their mark on the city. 

That’s exactly what visitors will see when they drive through downtown West Point. As they drive up Third Avenue, they won’t be able to miss the two-story, hyperrealistic mural of the town’s 1914 railroad trestle that climbs up the side of the wall of Johnny’s Pizza. 

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Sometimes, if they’re at the right place at the right time, pedestrians can even peruse the historic silhouette while also listening to the train pass through the city one block away. 

But beyond the more obvious iconography like Point University’s Skyhawks wings, the fingerprint of local artist Jim Frank is dotted all over West Point. From the signage on the historic Burrow Warehouse building to the brand-new mural at West Point Elementary’s front lobby wall, Frank has most certainly left his mark. 

West Point is not the only small town in the area that has seen a restoration in its beautification and tourism. Just down the road, Pine Mountain — home to the famous Callaway Gardens — has had many historic buildings and murals given fresh life with a new paint job. 

Across the state line, the LaFayette community has had an uptick in beautification efforts through the LaFayette Main Street organization. And we’ve likely all patronized Hogansville’s popular Hummingbird festival at least once or twice. The festival is filled with local artists and artisans that return year after year to sell their work. 

The fact is public art like Frank’s is important to small communities. Having local art in a community can combat anxiety and social isolation, promote community pride and discourage crime. It could even stimulate the economy by bringing tourism into the area. 

Folks like Frank, who take pride in their community and leave it better than they found it, are an integral part of keeping small towns special. They fuel creative tourism and encourage more of it to spread.