When an editor suggests to me that I check out the inaugural art opening at the new Winterville Center for Community and Culture, I don’t know why images of Siberia pop into my head. After all, it is only five miles from Athens.
I do know that after arriving at the center on a recent Friday night to check out the show curated by Jimmy “Cap Man” Straehla, I was reminded of just how jaded I’ve become.
Walking in the door, the sense of community, enthusiasm and pride was palpable. Smiling arts council members took the time to introduce themselves and shake hands. The executive director, Jack Eisenman, made sure to welcome visitors personally.
“When people come from out of town, they ask how many people we have living here and they can’t believe that we have something like this,” Eisenman tells me. For those of you who are curious, the number of people living in Winterville is about 1,200. That number is just slightly higher than the typical number of hippies filling the Georgia Theatre for a (fill in your favorite jam band here) show.
Eisenman describes the primary mission of the center as ”providing enrichment courses for all ages of adults.” Priority is given to seniors, however. Eisenman is fond of quotes and posts thing like “Someday us old folks will use cursive writing as a secret code” throughout the space.
The Winterville Center is located in the old Winterville High School, which has been empty since the last graduating class walked through its doors in 1956. The downstairs of the building has been restored and provides a home for lectures, event rentals, community gatherings and classes on diet, health, pilates, tai chi and more.
Sadly, no traces of the history of the building remain downstairs. While the space is cleanly finished and functional, floors are faux wood and the dropped ceilings sport fluorescent lighting. But Mayor of Winterville Dodd Ferrelle hopes the upstairs of the building will be a different story. At the opening, he led small impromptu tours of the upstairs. Large windows span all four sides, flooding the space with natural light and offering expansive views of the tidy little town with its neat rows of dogwoods, flowering azaleas and sweet family homes.
Ferrelle is hoping the upstairs will be rented out, and it has great potential as a dance studio or theatre space. Even with only minimal restoration and construction, it could be a larger and lovelier location for viewing art. And with its wooden floors and rustic age and texture, it is already a natural choice as a backdrop for band photos. Heads up, Jason Thrasher!
Ferrelle is clearly excited about the possibilities the center holds for his community and he has many ideas. “We need a heritage room for Winterville,” he said. “”Right now, all of our history is just walking around in people’s heads.”
The inaugural art opening is an exciting beginning, and visitors were clearly pleased to be there. Winterville resident and artist Phil Elie enthusiastically exclaimed, “We are trying to fan the flames of what we are calling the Winterville Art Movement—or, WAM."
The exhibit is dominated by folk art—no surprise with Cap Man at the helm—but other genres are also represented. Artists on display include Jen Wolf, Van Bellville, Cameron Bliss, Tex S. Crawford, Susan Clay, Mike Jones, Terry Rowlett, Madison Binkley, Jim White, Margot Eke, Peter Loose and Steven Milsap. Shows and curators will rotate every two months.
As one couple headed out after a night of looking at work and catching up with friends, the woman turned to her husband and said, “Isn’t this great? We can walk home from an art opening.”
For more information, visit www.cityofwinterville.com/wintervillecenter.