Ask almost any artist about their livelihood and they’ll likely tell you they love creating art, but hate the business side of things. But in recent years, many have found a business approach that works for them, whether it be an artist co-op arrangement through a local guild, or retail stores committed to selling only hand-crafted pieces from local artists.
These specialty stores have continued to grow in popularity, and today, the Lake Oconee area can boast it has art retailers in every downtown shopping district. Many of these stores offer art classes and workshops, artist demonstrations, or simply provide a fun night out with friends or a creative space for private celebrations.
One of the first to jump into the retail idea was Greensboro. In 2003, the city created Genuine Georgia, an artisan marketplace funded by the Downtown Development Authority, in hopes of drawing shoppers to an art destination in the heart of downtown. When they were ready to sell, lifelong resident and former Chamber of Commerce president, Cynthia Smith, was ready to buy.
“I had been working with the city on this from the beginning and I knew how exciting it was,” says Smith. “The concept was just really intriguing to me and I’ve tried to stay true to it because it was so solid.”
The store, housed in one of Greensboro’s most iconic and recognizable buildings, brings together pieces from 120 artists all over the state, creating a mix of folk and fine art, pottery, wood, glass, jewelry, fiber arts, primitive arts, books, music, and more.
Smith says what makes it work are the stories behind each of the artists. “We like telling their stories,” she says. “That’s what brings people in here and gets them interesting in having art and understanding it, because they all of a sudden have a concept and a connection to the artist.”
102 S. Main St., Greensboro
Similarly, The Artisans Village was created to drive “cultural tourism” to downtown Eatonton. Upon the suggestion by the Georgia Department of Economic Development to focus on tourism through the arts and heritage of the region, the Lake Country Arts council was born and the idea for The Artisans Village began to take shape. Ultimately, it involves the renovation of nearby historical buildings to create a working artist marketplace, and in 2016, a gallery was opened on the courthouse square to allow artists to display their work and create excitement for the renovations.
The Garden Room in the back of The Artisans Village Art Gallery plays host to fine art classes and workshops taught by members of The Artisans Village Guild. For details on upcoming classes, visit theartisansvillage.org.
The Artisans Village Art Gallery
110 W Marion St., Eatonton
The newest addition to downtown Eatonton is The FolksArt on South Jefferson: Lost Arts Found. The store sells handmade gifts and art along with general merchandise and resell items, and offers art classes, private art parties, and workshops.
The FolksArt on South Jefferson
119 South Jefferson Ave., Eatonton
The MAGallery in downtown Madison is another retail collaboration between members of the Madison Artists Guild. Designed to support local artists and art lovers, this creative space is more than just a gallery filled with two- and three-dimensional art. The whimsical storefront hosts First Friday events, family workshops, exhibit receptions, and all sorts of creative classes for the artist and amateur alike.
For a schedule of upcoming classes, visit themadisonartistsguild.org.
MAGallery on Main Street
123 S. Main St., Madison
In the heart of nearby Rutledge, the Handmade Emporium made its debut this spring. The new store, owned by Cindy and Gary Hultgren, adds a fresh venue for bringing the arts and the community together. Located next to The Caboose, the Handmade Emporium welcomes a variety of artists to showcase their work within the comfortable and friendly store.
105 W. Main St., Rutledge