Newnan has a new resident. An artist-in-residence, that is.
The Newnan Artist-in-Residence program – or ArtRez – combines the efforts of the University of West Georgia School of the Arts and UWG Newnan. The program offers artists of various disciplines the opportunity to temporarily reside at the Gray Cottage next door to the McRitchie-Hollis Museum.
Over a period of weeks, the artists immerse themselves in the Newnan arts and cultural scene while also enriching the Coweta’s cultural environment. Since its launch in 2015, the program has brought over 30 successive artists from around the world to share their talents with Newnan.
“We use the term ‘artist’ broadly,” said Dr. Chad Davidson, a professor of English at UWG who has served on the ArtRez board since its beginning. “Artist can mean a visual artist, but it can also be a writer.”
During an artist’s residency, the furnished cottage becomes a workspace but also a home. Amenities include studio space and Wi-Fi for work purposes, but also a kitchen, washer and dryer, and even a bicycle to navigate town.
“The ability to host an artist who will interact with our students and the community has an amazing impact,” Davidson said.
Past artists have held workshops with UWG students and young children. They’ve also spoken at the Newnan Carnegie Library and in classrooms.
“There is always some form of close, high-impact interaction between the artist and the community,” Davidson said.
Meet artist Sylvie Bucher
One such artist, Sylvie Bucher, attended Newnan ArtRez during this year’s spring semester. A native of Mulhouse, France, she has called Greenville, South Carolina, both her home and her artistic playground since 2014.
A true free spirit, Bucher has never lost her childlike sense of exploration and wonder for the world. While most people see something like a manhole cover as mundane – if we happen to notice them at all – she sees beautiful patterns to incorporate into her lithographs.
“I work with what I find on the sidewalk, what I find in the road,” Bucher said.
Even a crack in the pavement can inspire her as she takes charcoal rubbings and photographs to later incorporate into her artwork.
It is with this curiosity and sense of wonder rather than a specific plan that Bucher came to Newnan for her residency.
“I wanted to get to know the people in the area,” Bucher said. “Like a child on a hike, I wanted to explore Newnan with fresh eyes rather than seeking something in particular.”
The abandoned R. D. Cole Manufacturing Company factory, in particular, provided Bucher with an opportunity to explore. Many photographs and charcoal rubbings she took there found their way into the prints she created while residing in Newnan.
World-aware with community focus
Bucher’s travels have taken her from France to Finland and the United States. As with her art, she often focuses on the details. For instance, she is drawn to unique towns and individuals.
Perhaps this is why Bucher spent so much of her time using her art to connect with – and even assist – individuals who needed care and comfort the most.
“I wanted to share my art, and workshops were great to work with individuals,” Bucher said. “For many years, I worked with persons with disabilities. I cherished making those intimate connections and encouraging people to find themselves through art.”
She worked with autistic teens in Finland who she found to be dynamic and overtly expressive. In these cases, the art sessions often served as a sort of therapy in bringing calm and a means to more constructive communication.
On the other hand, working with Alzheimer’s patients in France was an entirely different matter. Here, Bucher guided her workshop patrons to remember not only the past, but also the details that gave their lives shape and coherence.
“The art helped them remember their own personal stories,” Bucher said. “We worked in one-on-one sessions in a cozy little room. By painting, they could express themselves and recall some of the personal memories they had lost.”
An artist in Newnan
Bucher’s penchant for working at the most intimate levels as an artist did not take a holiday in Newnan. She soon found herself working closely with Backstreet Community Arts.
“It is a wonderful, open place of great benefit to the community,” Bucher said. “I spent a good deal of time there, speaking and working with people while creating my art.”
Directed by Kim Ramey, Backstreet Community Arts operates as a nonprofit organization in Newnan. According to its website, “Backstreet Community Arts exists to provide a safe, welcoming, creative environment to anyone who may benefit from the healing powers of art and community.”
“The director, Kim, is so wonderful,” Bucher said. “She tells me that art saves lives, and I know that’s true.”
Fostering these kinds of community interactions is exactly what the Newnan Artist-in-Residence program is designed to do. The depth of these collaborations – and the memories created – show how the program is a boon not only for the artists, but for UWG and for the residents of Coweta County.
Perhaps Bucher herself best captured the spirit of the program: “When it comes to art, I love to share it with people in the community, and today my community is Newnan.”