Laura Agee, a 2018 fellow with Auburn University’s Living Democracy, reflects on the importance of creativity in community at her summer placement (and hometown!) of Camden. Living Democracy is one of our longest running partners of the Jean O’Connor-Snyder Internship Program. To view the original post (and many others), head over to their site!
Art has a way of bringing mankind together. Art does not care what color you are, where you’re from, or what age you are. For centuries, art has paid homage to the past while creating an innovative future. Architectural design, fashion, painting techniques, literature, photography, pottery, and so much more continue to evolve.
Today’s youth will shape tomorrow’s future so why not encourage them to create something that is completely their own. Black Belt Treasures and Cultural Arts Center in Camden has made the pledge to do just that.
Executive Director Sulynn Creswell explained that Black Belt Treasures opened for business on Oct. 1, 2005, with approximately 75 artists. To date, more than 500 artisans have sold their work through Black Belt Treasures.
Creswell said the vision for Black Belt Treasures came from an assessment of tourism potential conducted by the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission (ATRC). She added, “John Clyde Riggs, executive director of ATRC, envisioned a place that would feature the work of artists and craftsmen from Alabama’s Black Belt region for the purpose of stimulating the economy through the arts.”
Since that vision became a reality, visitors from all 50 states and 31 other countries have visited the gallery in Camden. Creswell said more than $1 million has been returned to Black Belt Treasures artists through the sale of their work displayed at the center.
In addition, countless young people and adults have participated in art classes sponsored by Black Belt Treasures. Creswell noted that there are a wide variety of accomplishments for BBT, but two main components are community involvement and encouraging youth to explore the arts.
A wide variety of art classes are available as children visit Black Belt Treasures to create their own masterpiece in a classroom setting with art instructors. Youth and adult visual arts classes are offered throughout the year.
Jo Taylor, Arts Education Coordinator for Black Belt Treasures and a DeltaCorps service member, said, “The children’s art camps at BBTCAC positively influence children by giving them a place to learn, create and express themselves through visual arts. I have watched as children gained self-confidence as they created a well-crafted, expressive piece of art work that they were proud to display.”
Taylor added, “Parents and community members get to see the power of the arts as the children’s critical thinking skills improve, their self-esteem grows and quality art work is produced at these summer camps. They are also great fun for all who participate.”
In addition to arts education, Creswell said Black Belt Treasures is focused on community involvement. Every year, Camden’s citizens participate in the annual Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce BBQ Cook-Off. Teams are formed to cook barbeque throughout the night. The next day people gather in Camden’s blocked off downtown area to try the barbeque and judge which is their favorite.
Live music can be heard throughout the town while the smell of barbeque drifts around the courthouse square. The annual barbeque cook-off was created to honor a beloved member of the community, Mark Curl.
While the courthouse is surrounded by delicious food, Black Belt Treasures, just down the road at 209 Claiborne St., hosts their own festival known as “Hog Wild for Art”.
Pottery instructors, painters, cooking demonstrators, and iron forgers travel to Camden to provide free demonstrations to those who want a break from eating food. While parents can watch a demonstration, the children can enjoy small and easy art crafts, jump rope, or decorate the street with chalk. Creswell noted that the spring “Hog Wild for Art” event provides the organization an opportunity to increase the excitement about Camden’s downtown while also promoting local businesses.
-Laura Agee, Auburn University