David Thomas’s friends were none too happy when he told them he meant to convert an old trolley car barn into a community theater in the heart of Stone Mountain village.
“They looked at this building with its roof caved in that had been sitting empty since the late 1970s and said, ‘You’re absolutely crazy!’ ” said Thomas. “But I did it anyway.”
Thomas, who founded Stone Mountain’s professional equity theater company in 1986, raised $3.5 million to renovate the building in stages. In 1990, the troupe moved into ART Station, a 120-seat space that has expanded over the years to become more than just a destination for live theater. The structure now houses a gift shop featuring Southern foods and books; a second-floor art gallery with 120 permanent pieces; classrooms for art and dance; a ceramics studio; conference areas for a range of workshops, from marketing to photography; and two music studios. A children’s art room was outfitted by Turner Broadcasting with old farm tables and paint cans for lights. Six days a week, the facility is buzzing with activity, including members of the general public who drop in to check out the latest works by local artists.
And the work of refurbishing the space is not finished yet. The theater is undergoing a face lift with new seats, lights, drapes and a wheelchair lift. A cabaret bar with 30 seats is being installed so theater patrons will have a place to enjoy dessert and drinks after a show.
“Our audience comes from across metro Atlanta,” said Thomas. “They drive to come here, but it can be very frustrating to find there is no where to go at 10:30 for a drink or dessert. Our plan is to keep them here.”
Not only has ART Station become a destination for theater, classes and workshops, it is also supporter of local artists. Over the last several years, Thomas has scouted vacant downtown storefronts with an eye toward turning them into studios, and through the organization he has refurbished five once-dilapidated buildings into showcases for artists who, on their own, might not be able to afford studio and gallery space.
“We have been an incubator for artists who want to get a start,” said Thomas. “We took buildings that were in bad shape and redid them, and now the artists pay a minimum fee to have their studios and display space. It’s great for them and the city.”
The five galleries, all within walking distance of ART Station’s main building on Manor Drive, house painters, jewelry artisans and crafts people who gladly show visitors their latest projects and finished pieces. At Ironhawk Forge, Michael Labbe-Webb often takes time out from hammering hot metal to create pieces of blown glass and talk to potential buyers.
“The great thing about being here is that we all interact,” said Labbe-Webb. “We are constantly asking each other about resources. It’s a great way for artists to get a start.”
Encouraging emerging artists, promoting Southern playwrights and offering a range of creative activities is the core of Art Station’s mission, said Thomas.
“We are all about making art part of everyday life,” he said. “There’s something here for everybody.”
Each Saturday, we shine a spotlight on a local neighborhood, city or community. To suggest a place for us to visit, e-mail H.M. Cauley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-514-6162.
5384 Manor Drive, Stone Mountain
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