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Swainsboro, art mecca

Getting out of town? If Swainsboro, Ga., isn’t on your list of summer road trips -- make a new list.

Swainsboro is a town of either 7,000 or 8,000 people, depending on whom you ask. Located 95 miles west and north of Savannah, it’s what people call a country town, complete with a center town square.

And this Saturday night, for the eighth time in eight months, Swainsboro expects a swarm of people roaming their downtown, munching cheese and crackers, sipping wine and gawking at art, lured to this out of the way spot for the Second Saturday Art Stroll.

“It’s a good vibe,” says Jack Bazemore, an artist and a psychology major at East Georgia College who grew up in Swainsboro. “It makes a big difference to see people going into the shops.”

He and Georgia Southern student Jessica Dixon have attended most of the Strolls. Bazemore has exhibited art in three previous shows at Gallery RFD, the non-profit art collaborative that’s the locus of Swainsboro’s art explosion.

Typically five or six downtown art venues participate in the Stroll, held the second Saturday of the month, presenting group and individual shows of photographers, painters, and mixed media artists.

A random poll of July strollers revealed visitors from Atlanta, Metter, Louisville, and Savannah, as well as Swainsboro and nearby Stillmore.

“Savannah has a scene already started,” says Anthony Faris, co-founder of Gallery RFD. “We get to help develop a vision for Swainsboro.”

The vision began with Faris and co-founder Bryan Ghiloni converting a vacated longtime dress shop into their non-profit gallery, which opened in January, just in time for the first Stroll. Other stops on the Stroll are a community arts center, a restaurant, a coffee shop and a frame store, all doubling as art venues.

At Gallery RFD, each show has a guest juror select work from dozens of blind submissions from across the country. Opening this Saturday is “Far From Home,” “an exhibition on work inspired by travel, how leaving home affects your creative process,” says Faris.

“Far from Home” features work by 22 different artists from all over the U.S.-- Nevada, Memphis, New Jersey—plus artists from Ontario, Seoul, South Korea, and right down the road in Stillmore.

Faris and Ghiloni arrived in Swainsboro by way of the Stillmore Roots arts collaborative. They have financial support from an unlikely source: The Georgia Rural Economic Development Center.

“We thought for a long time about an art incubator,” says Jack Bareford, director of GREDC. “This is the first step in that process.”

“They are young fireballs. They’ve got more energy than you can shake a stick at.”

“The project is about the arts but it’s also about the quality of life downtown and supporting local business owners,” says Faris.

“Most everybody’s supportive of what we’re doing, especially the people downtown,” says Ghiloni.

Brian Brown grew up in Swainsboro. He’s the owner and chef of 114 West restaurant, one of the Stroll galleries. He loves the extra boost the Stroll gives his business, with the July event sparking his busiest night this year.

Live music caps each Stroll, performed at The Boneyard, a public open air pavilion located just off the town square. Faris and Ghiloni schedule the bands. Watch for shows this fall by AfroMotive, an African tribal and horn band from Asheville, The Eubanks Family gospel group, Savannah’s Bottles and Cans, and Nashville-based Tybee native Tony Arata, performing with harmonica player Jelly Roll Johnson.

For Faris, it’s still about his art. “This place has influenced my work dramatically in a very, very good way that makes me want to stay here.”

August’s Second Saturday Stroll in downtown Swainsboro is this Saturday, Aug. 11, 5–8 p.m. Performing at the Boneyard after the Stroll is Mississippi John Doude, a roots blues “two man trio” hailing from Milledgeville and Hattiesburg, Miss. Information at www.galleryrfd.org.

Email Robin Wright Gunn at



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Robin Wright Gunn

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