Bainbridge is Art

Posted on 04 October 2017

The brick Firehouse Arts Center and Gallery is one of Bainbridge’s most unique facilities.

It was built in 1914 and reflects the Mission style architecture popular of that era.

According to members of the Firehouse Arts Center, the receipt of the Firehouse Building from the City of Bainbridge brought a sense of unity and purpose to the various artists in the community. They came together to back the renovation of the building and now work together to promote and encourage the arts in Bainbridge.

The historic building had served as the city building, housing the police department and jail, firemen, and city council meetings. In 1991 the building was declared to be in such bad repair that the city contemplated tearing it down and making a parking lot.

That is when civic-minded individuals and artists came together and found reasons to save the building. They received the building from the City in 1995. They organized fundraisers and wrote successful grants and raised the $1 million dollars necessary to make extensive renovation and repairs. In February, 2007, the Firehouse Center and Gallery opened.

An iron-gated courtyard at the front is paved with commemorative bricks, each imprinted with the names of the donors. Seasonal flowers and trees add color and décor. The two double wooden doors, once used for the firetruck entrances remain as entrances off the patio. The patio and doors create a background scenery often used by professional photographers to shoot engagement, wedding, prom and other photos.

The Bainbridge-Decatur County Council for the Arts, Inc. was created in June of 1992 and their mission statement is that they are committed to the enrichment of community life throughout the arts, which they define as visual arts, performing arts, written word and nature. Membership does not require a person to be an artist, but one that supports the arts. There are currently 92 members overseen by a board of six, Current officers are Debbie Elkin, president, Melanie Posey, vice-president, Rebecca Kasilus, secretary and Phyllis Lucas, treasurer.

A separate organization, the Decatur County Artists’ Guild, is comprised of approximately 30 artists who hold regular meetings at the Firehouse. One member, Becky Bardin, said she considers it a unique opportunity for a town the size of Bainbridge to have a gallery of this caliber. “It is a place we can all come together and share so many genres of art,” she exclaimed. The group has two exhibits a year, where viewers can expect to see works of photography, oils, pastels, water colors, acrylics, mixed media and fiber art all in the same place.

The building serves as an exhibition hall for the several arts organizations, as well as a classroom where So So Van Gogh acrylics classes are given  several times a year.

There are after-school classes for youth during the spring, and a summer youth arts program for elementary school age children.

Bainbridge is fortunate to have such high caliber art teachers as Ashley Long, whose studio is located in Maiden South, his sister, Rebecca Long Cole, who teaches at the high school, Rebecca Kasilus who teaches in the middle school and Ali White, who works at the college, but serves as the artistic director of the Firehouse Arts Center.

The building has also become a center for citizens of the community to gather for celebrations, entertainment and fundraising purposes. It is home to the Bizarre Bazaar each Thanksgiving weekend, and is rented out nearly every weekend to some group, according to the Administrative Director, Gerard Kwilecki,

The supporting organizations grow stronger each year and recent funds received from the Fogg Charitable Trust have enabled the undertaking of repairs and improvements, which are ongoing.

How unique is it to turn a Pepsi Cola bottling plant into a performing arts theatre where a community theatre group can call home?

According to a history of the Bainbridge Little Theatre contained on their website, Bainbridge College personnel were vitally instrumental to the organization of the theatre. The college had been open for a year in 1974, when it began making plans for a community theatre troop. Those who were most important to the forming of the theatre were Dr. Eunice Knight, Dr. Michael Gast, Mrs. Dottie Reynolds, College President, Dr. Edward Mobley and his wife Martha.

The BLT was established and their first show, “Barefoot in the Park” was performed in 1974. In the early years the group performed in school auditoriums and churches.

A strong community theater program has been able to thrive thanks to the donation of the old Pepsi Cola bottling plant by Max Langston.

Donations from a supporting public made the restoration of the building possible, as well as outfitting it for a theatre that seats 125. Those seats were sold at $200 each, and have plaques identifying their names.

The organization has maintained its vitality for 43 years through the generous donations of community and corporate benefactors and patrons, and the hard work of a corps of volunteers.

Educational programs, such as the summer youth Class Act workshops, recruit and encourage the training of young people in theatre arts. Many of them have gone on to star in stage productions and help train others.

A community theatre offers an outlet for citizens to demonstrate and expand their skills as they participate in theatre productions. An educational link exists between the theatre and those who attend the various performances, as they become familiar with classic dramas, musicals and comedies.

An outdoor garden area named in honor of Max’s wife Ruth Langston is the scene for opening night theatre parties. An additional gift from the Langston family allowed the BLT to renovate the garden in 2015, with a new fountain, landscaping and an irrigation system.

The lobby of the theatre was redesigned and decorated in 2015 by Thadeous Nifong, in memory of his parents. Thad was a frequent performer, master set builder and even managed the theatre at times before moving to the Atlanta area in 2016. 

Continuous support from the public is essential to the livelihood of any community theatre.

Bainbridge Little Theatre has been enhanced by participation of performers from surrounding counties in addition to Bainbridge. The summer team recruitment program regularly involves 30 elementary school children, and 25 teenagers who sharpen their skills while helping with the productions.

Many of those who were formerly involved with BLT as students have gone on to pursue careers in various fields of entertainment.

A state of the art on-line ticketing sales procedure has been installed to make it easier to purchase tickets and reserve seats.

Asked what makes Bainbridge Little Theatre different or unique from other surrounding communities with community theaters, the answer has to be the different genres of theatrical productions performed on the BLT stage. Four major shows are produced each year, including dramas, comedies and musicals, in addition to the Class Act productions.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.