From canvases and art gallery walls to thinking outside the box and on the stage, the arts in Cherokee County are growing and thriving. In honor of Women’s History Month in March we’re celebrating some of the talented women making history in the arts in Cherokee County.

FEATURING:

(click below to jump to section)

JESSICA AKERS

SHANNA COULTER

ANN LITREL & SHAWN MCLEOD

MADISON TAYLOR

JAMIE FOREMAN

SANAZ MOUSAVI DILLARD

 

Jessica Akers / Falany Performing Arts Center / Reinhardt University / Enjoy Cherokee / Women in Art (Photo Credit: Emily Danielle Cumana/Em Danielle Photography)

The Showrunner: Jessica Akers

Profile by Suzy Alstrin, Reinhardt University

Enjoyment of the arts often hinges on the people behind the scenes creating those opportunities. Being a curator of performing arts is a critical role sometimes taken for granted, but not here in Cherokee County, where Jessica Akers is recognized for her ability to create impactful and inclusive experiences.

Bringing Big Events to a Small Town

Ask any regular visitor to the Falany Performing Arts Center [FPAC] on the Reinhardt University campus, and they likely know Executive Director Jessica Akers and her enthusiasm for performing arts. Jessica brings music, theater, and dance to the Waleska stage and fills seats with excited attendees. She scouts professional artists, books shows, publicizes events, engages with ticket holders, and tends to every fine detail.

Forming connections with FPAC’s patrons, volunteers, and community and seeing them embrace the arts inspires Jessica to do what she does. She strives to have everyone who walks through the doors receive a small-town welcome and discover that high-quality experiences can be found outside a big city.

Passions Shared

Since birth Jessica bonded with the arts, first from hearing her father sing, and then taking lessons in piano, dance, and voice. Her passion for performing publicly grew, including singing at the 1996 Summer Olympics. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Reinhardt in 2005, an MBA in 2011, and took on her current role in 2013.

Jessica’s energetic and outgoing personality pours into her efforts to touch as many lives as possible. She developed what she affectionately calls “Falany on the Road,” organizing off-site events such as clubhouse performances and community concerts. Her intentions are consistent: to help people of all ages discover a love for the arts and enrich their lives.

The Next Generation of Artists

Thanks to Jessica’s efforts, over the past year more than 1,500 children received free opportunities to experience the arts through music theater summer camps, holiday experiences, and field trips to see performances.

During Youth Art Month in March, R. M. Moore Elementary School STEM Academy students are displaying their art in the FPAC gallery and performing a concert on the professional stage. Jessica explains, “Our goal is to grow and become an art experience hub for schools in Cherokee County.”

Moving Forward and Making Memories

JoEllen Wilson, 1961 Reinhardt graduate and emerita vice president of advancement, credits Jessica with FPAC’s success, “Until Jessica became our director, we had hard times getting folks to drive ‘way up to Waleska.’ Enter Jess. She made the rounds, letting communities know what a jewel for the arts had been established at the Falany. The rest is history.”

Jessica strives to keep learning and progressing, “We’re always looking inward and working to improve experiences and what we provide. Being able to evolve will allow us to continue to supply a space for the people to come and embrace the arts.”

Thanks to Jessica and her team, FPAC visitors feel the warm spirit of the people of Cherokee County and the excitement of experiencing performing arts. Jessica describes the venue as being for people to share in joyful moments. “We provide a place for people to make lasting memories and build connections with one another. Whether it be with friends or a date night, it’s an opportunity to have a casual moment in a comfortable environment. I enjoy that we are memory makers.”

Visit Reinhardt.edu/Falany…

 

Shanna Coulter / Local Color Studio / Enjoy Cherokee / Women in Art (Photo Credit: Emily Danielle Cumana/Em Danielle Photography)

The New Kid on the Block: Shanna Coulter

Profile by Nick Feehery, Acworth

Imagine a desk with a mosaic of donated tiles covering it, barn doors with bright colors, and a set of tables where artists make projects, passing ideas back and forth, and encouraging others. This is the inviting atmosphere of Local Color Studio. Shanna Coulter, the imagination behind and owner of the studio, is just like the other artists: encouraging, welcoming, and compassionate. Family friend Jaime Roberts describes Shanna as “someone living out who they are authentically and unapologetically.” With her fun and friendly personality, Shanna has built a space any artist can feel comfortable in.

Shanna best describes her younger self as “the kid who drew on the walls, on myself, and everything.” She has been making art since the very start and was blessed with a supportive family. Like many artists, art is a method for Shanna to share her thoughts and feelings. She mostly draws and paints, but she dabbles with any material she can, including photography, ceramics, and even mixed media. Jaime says of Shanna that art virtually “oozes from her pores.”

When Shanna was in her twenties, art became her source of income. She painted portraits, sketched houses, and painted murals to help support her family. She received a bachelor of arts from Kennesaw State University [KSU]. However, with a large family she struggled to continue her personal art, as she felt she had little time or space to create.

Shanna returned to KSU and received a degree in art education, crafting her return to the arts as well. She became a beloved art teacher at Cherokee High School but found that the public-school setting did not fulfill her goals as an artist. The end of May 2022 marked the start of a new chapter.

Finding a spot for a studio was easier said than done. Shanna had the help of Dana Cox of Penn Hodge Properties, who developed the renovated Mill on Etowah. While finding space in Canton was nearly impossible, Shanna knew that it had to be in Canton.

The stars aligned when the basement of the former Audio Intersection became available. Shanna signed the lease on February 2, 2023, and got straight to work. The creation of Local Color Studio was crucial, as she reasons, “Art is important, and culture is important. The creative people of Canton need a place to do their important work.”

The coworking space has become an area for artists to come together, share ideas, and build each other up. “Creativity creates more creativity. Creativity is not exhaustive,” Shanna explains. For her, the best thing for an aspiring artist to do is “make art every day” and find support in a mentor or creative group.

Local Color Studio celebrated its grand opening on February 2, 2024, a year to the date of signing the lease. The space is just starting out, and community response directs the studio more than Shanna does. To her, the town says, “We’re open to the arts, and the artists just have to fill those spaces.” She hopes to make Canton a pin on the map of Southeastern art with her studio and with events like Barnaroo, an annual fall music festival at her family farm lovingly dubbed Coulterville.

Visit LocalColor.Studio…

 

Ann Litrel Art / Woodstock Arts / Enjoy Cherokee / Women in Art (Photo Credit: Emily Danielle Cumana/Em Danielle Photography)

The Pioneers: Ann Litrel & Shawn McLeod

Profile by Rebecca Johnston, Canton

For Woodstock Arts founders Ann Litrel and Shawn McLeod the reality is even better than the dream. The dynamic duo first conceived the idea of a place to provide the community with performing and visual arts experiences fifteen years ago, and together they were the spark that brought that dream to life.

Woodstock Arts is now flourishing with performing arts productions, outdoor concerts, visual arts exhibits, cultural events, classes, and camps. What started with two employees and a $100,000 annual budget now has twenty staff members and a $1.5 million annual budget, much of it earned income from classes and performances.

Woodstock Arts Board of Directors President Katie Caldwell credits Ann and Shawn with where the organization is today. “The vision for Woodstock Arts originated with Ann and Shawn, who saw a need for arts engagement in our community and gave much of their time, talent, and heart to ensure the legacy of a thriving arts presence that continues to grow and inspire,” Katie shares.

The dream began in 2008 when Shawn and Ann started looking for a path to provide a performing and visual arts center for the city. They teamed up with Gay Grooms, founder of the Towne Lake Art Center. At the time, Shawn owned an art gallery in the city and Ann had an art studio in downtown Woodstock.

“Ann and I were approached about saving an old house, the original Reeves House. We were introduced to Gay, who was looking to move her theater into downtown Woodstock, and a crazy plan of creating a full arts center and theater was born,” Shawn remembers. “Being a visual artist and having owned an art gallery in downtown Woodstock, I knew, as they say, ‘build it and they will come.’ Having a home for all artists was my motivation.”

Ann remembers that the support was almost immediate when the three approached local governments, businesses, and community leaders.

“The three of us made a presentation to both the city and the county, and there was an agreement for the four acres of land where the Reeves House was located,” Ann points out. “Shawn and Gay and I worked together, and the city allowed us to use City Center and convert that facility into an arts center so that Towne Lake could move into downtown.”

Shawn is grateful that the community stepped up to help with the project to buy the Reeves property. “We met with a lot of important people who heard what we wanted to do, understood how it would benefit our city, county, and community, and helped make it happen.”

“The vision has always been to engage community, and only then could it be successful,” Ann adds. “Very few small towns have what we now have in Woodstock. We have garnered national attention for what has been accomplished here for arts.”

In the beginning development of the Reeves property started as an outdoor stage and performance area, Ann remembers. “It was a beautiful green space, and we envisioned a garden, a place where people could paint, perform, or sculpt. I loved the idea of bringing the community together to make beautiful works of art.”

The women complemented each other’s abilities and strengths. Shawn recalls, “It was a natural fit from the very beginning with Ann and me. Meeting her for the first time I realized we both had a passion for the arts, for our city, and [we had the] tenacity for getting things done. That natural connection was the main reason we worked well together. We balanced our strengths and weaknesses so that together, and with Gay Grooms, we just never gave up.”

Ann praises Shawn for her contributions and says the two were able to divide up what needed to be done to make the project successful. What they didn’t know, they quickly learned. “We had to learn about budgets, hiring a staff, building a board, governance, and board relations, just a few small things,” Ann says with a laugh. “Shawn had a ton of managerial experience, and she was president of the board for several years. She was very much about the development and staff management. She is a very talented manager. My areas were public relations, board recruitment, fundraising, and governance, as well as [ensuring] that the board had cohesion and that there was a vision and direction.”

Gay was the artistic director of the theater, Ann explains. The next goal was to hire an operations manager, and after a national search, Christopher Brazelton was chosen out of eighty-five applicants. Gay later retired in 2015, and today Christopher leads Woodstock Arts as executive director.

“We needed to find someone who could take us where we wanted to go. He was the perfect choice because of his entrepreneurial spirit and his interest in performing arts,” Ann says.

Ann is also grateful to developer John Weiland, who donated to the project early on and helped finish The Reeves House.

When asked how she feels about where Woodstock Arts is today, Shawn replies, “So proud. Christopher Brazelton and his staff continue to make what we dreamed a reality. I am not involved like I once was; time for another generation,” she says with a chuckle. “But those things we dreamed about, the ideas of what could we do? I see them [brought] to reality. So exciting!”

Both women continue to be vibrant forces in their community. “I haven’t stopped being a part of downtown Woodstock,” Shawn says. “I got involved with Reformation Brewery before it opened its doors and now I am director of administration for the company. Being part of something that is bigger than just me is in my blood.”

Ann has continued her career as an artist and is working on a book with well-known journalist and author Charles Seabrook for the University of Georgia Press expected to come out in late 2024 or early 2025.

Visit AnnLitrel.com…

 

Madison Taylor / Enjoy Cherokee / Women in Art (Photo Credit: Emily Danielle Cumana/Em Danielle Photography)

The Warrior: Madison Taylor

Profile by Abigail Hayman, Canton

Although it’s cold and rainy on the Monday that we meet, Cherokee County artist Madison Taylor is a ray of sunshine. Madison is celebrated in her community of Woodstock as an inspiration and a guiding light to others.

Madison’s parents, Lori and Jeff, note she had an artistic childhood, often drawing clothes for her dolls and otherwise expressing her creativity. As a student at Etowah High School, Madison’s creative passion led her to a bake shop. “I worked as a lead decorator for Great American Cookie,” she says. “Frosting and painting have always been my jam.” After high school, Madison attended Kennesaw State University.

Everything changed for Madison on August 9, 2019, when a diving accident injured her spinal cord and rendered her paralyzed. That November she withdrew from college to focus on recovery. “I had to find things to help me with my fine motor skills and creativity. I’ve heard of people who paint with their feet because they lost their hands,” Madison says. “Just because you are going through something challenging or have a limitation doesn’t mean you just give up. You need to harness that power or mindset at some point and do it for you.”

Fresh Perspective

Following her injury Madison met artist Debbie Veith, who became her mentor. Nicole Lampl, curator for The Reeves House, notes, “Debbie worked with Madison to figure out how best to accommodate the limited use of her hands by figuring out a way to attach paintbrushes onto her wrists.” Madison appreciates Debbie’s guidance in her early art journey. Through painting classes and occupational therapy, Madison learned that art was a peaceful process and didn’t have to be perfect.

In October 2022 Madison’s work was featured in an exhibit at The Reeves House that welcomed more than one hundred attendees at its opening. “My community is my source of empowerment as a female artist,” Madison says. “The outcome from everyone who showed up at my art show was incredible.”

Woman Warrior

She says of her painting, Woman Warrior, “You go through hardships, and armor forms around you. By controlling your mindset, positivity radiates from you. It’s more powerful than any of the challenges in your life.”

Madison also relates to the works of her favorite artist, Pablo Picasso. “The evolution of Picasso’s face paintings resonates with how I’ve seen myself over the years. I used to think that I was just a person in a wheelchair. Now I’ve got new wheels and better parking,” Madison jokes. “There are people with a golden attitude who are going through a terrible situation, but some people have it all and aren’t grateful for anything,” Madison says.

Her father, Jeff Johnson, finds himself inspired by his daughter and her outlook on life. “She puts her heart and emotions on a canvas,” he says.

Making a Difference

Madison plans to attend fashion school to make a difference for individuals with disabilities. “People like me, in wheelchairs, have to find functional and comfortable clothes. You have to have something that works on your body so you can sit, but also outfits you can dress up in. I believe I could make a difference there. I’ve always been fashion-forward, and I think that would be awesome. I could help people from that perspective,” she says. “I hope people see that I have a great attitude. Maybe they can change the way they live their life.” Madison adds with a smile. Madison resides in downtown Woodstock with her support dog, Brody.

Visit InfiniteByMadisonTaylor.com…

 

Jamie Foreman of Menagerie on Main / Enjoy Cherokee / Women in Art (Photo Credit: Emily Danielle Cumana/Em Danielle Photography)

The Curator: Jamie Foreman

Profile by Bruce Baker, Canton

Art has always been a part of Jamie Foreman’s life. Her mother, Sue Foster, is an artist who encouraged her daughter to be creative. Eventually Sue opened an art gallery that was later sold to the local art guild when she retired. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Jamie was recognized for her artistic accomplishments in high school, but she didn’t believe she could support herself as an artist. When it came time to attend the University of Delaware, she studied education. Upon graduation Jamie became a teacher, later transitioning into an administrative position in the school. Her need for creative expression wasn’t being met, though, and she felt disillusioned. In a conversation with her mother, Jamie expressed how unhappy she was, so her mother asked, “Why don’t you open an art gallery?”

Right then and there, the concept for Menagerie on Main was born.

Menagerie Comes to Life

Jamie defines art as “the process of bringing an idea into reality via creation,” and by that definition Menagerie on Main is itself a work of art. She started developing the project in 2018 and opened the art gallery in March 2020, just as the pandemic struck. With the ensuing shutdown, Jamie persevered by selling art through Facebook until she could reopen the gallery.

Menagerie on Main is an extension of Jamie and her tastes. “It’s a place for the public to interact with art that is professional but not pretentious,” she explains. Menagerie focuses on North Georgia artists, as another part of Jamie’s vision is for it to be a place that brings artists and the community together. She envisions Menagerie as a place where customers can describe a piece they’d like commissioned and she can pair them with a local artist best able to create it.

Jamie’s passion for the arts extends far beyond the walls of the gallery. She advocates for the arts in the community in many other ways. From appearing in the Conversations on Canton panel during Mayor Bill Grant’s 2024 State of the City address to planning the first annual West Main Arts Festival, Jamie’s name is synonymous with the art scene in Canton. The aim of the inaugural West Main Arts Festival on Saturday, March 2, is to showcase forty local artists and their works in the heart of downtown Canton’s historic corridor.

Being around other artists feeds Jamie’s own creativity. She paints—acrylics mostly—and designs, creates, and sells jewelry both at Menagerie and online through Black Butterfly Designs.

When asked about the state of art in Cherokee County, Jamie sees clear preferences for traditional art over abstract art and says art is becoming more supported. One example: the recent inclusion in the master plan for the city of Canton that 2 percent of all capital investment projects will support public art. Another example: the recent opening of Local Color Studio that provides space for artists to create. She hopes to collaborate with Local Color Studio in the future. She’d also like to bring in more fiber art to Menagerie, as she sees a strong interest in it.

Jamie loves what she does and credits her mother for inspiration, example, encouragement, and guidance. She wants Menagerie on Main to be the same force for the creative community in Canton that Sue’s gallery was in her community. The mother-daughter duo’s latest endeavor is an expression of a mother and a daughter each creating her own rendition of identical subject matter for the It’s All Relative exhibition at Menagerie opening Friday, March 1, with a reception at 6:00 p.m.

Visit MenagerieOnMain.com…

 

Sanaz Mousavi Dillard of AsheqArt / Enjoy Cherokee / Women in Art (Photo Credit: Emily Danielle Cumana/Em Danielle Photography)

The Lover: Sanaz Mousavi Dillard

Profile by Bobbie Christmas, Woodstock

Chastised and threatened with expulsion from school for the opinions she expressed through her art and plays, Sanaz Mousavi Dillard has come a long way, literally and figuratively, from her homeland in Iran. After waiting fourteen years to get a green card, Sanaz, also known as Sunny, found the freedom to express her love, passion, and compassion in America. In the land of the free, her artistic expressions have won her honors, and she’s happy she and her husband, Phillip, call Woodstock their home.

Teenaged Sanaz, determined to gain a broad education, had to sneak around to study with a mentor who exposed her to philosophy and comparative religion. Some of her finest treasures became books by Plato and Aristotle that she secured from a Tehran library that was going to send the books to be locked away from the public. In her studies of religion she says she came to realize, “Most religions have a basis of love.”

Love wasn’t easy in Iran, though. Sanaz was forced into an arranged marriage, plus, she says, “The government and politics were a nightmare for anyone with a sense of freedom. There was too much suppression for anyone striving for a better life.”

After leaving her marriage, single-mom Sanaz and her son arrived in America in 2014 to join her mother, Fatima. Having received a bachelor’s degree in English literature in Tehran, she next pursued her master’s at Kennesaw State University.

At work Sanaz scheduled appointments and surgeries for a large medical association. “I saw what women go through when they have breast cancer,” she relates. “I saw their shame, pain, and embarrassment of feeling they weren’t good enough. I saw men who weren’t supportive or understanding of what their wives were going through. I wanted my art to encourage and celebrate women who are marginalized.” Her artworks express heartfelt messages amid symbolism.

Phillip encouraged her to leave the medical industry and follow her passion for art. “I’d studied watercolor under a master in Iran, so I poured my expression for literature, philosophy, and American culture into my art, combining it with the deep and beautiful Persian culture.” She chose AsheqArt for the name of her company, because asheq means lover. “I chose that word because it is the theme of my life. Our mission should be to love each other.”

Sanaz’s works have brought her honors, the latest of which was that the City of Woodstock 2023 Christmas card featured her watercolors. One shows the city’s thirty-foot Christmas tree with a full moon overhead; the other features the Park at City Center gazebo decorated for Christmas. It’s no mystery why Sanaz was chosen to be the artist for the city’s holiday cards. Madison Beaulieu, economic development operations manager for the City of Woodstock, praises Sanaz and her work. “She is a gift to our community. Her bright, encouraging spirit shines in all she does. Her colorful artwork, watercolor classes, and beautiful tea blends have been a hit at Made Mercantile, and I’m excited to see her continue to grow her business.”

At Made Mercantile, Sanaz teaches watercolor classes and sells her original acrylic paintings and watercolors as well as calendars and blank note cards illustrated with prints of her watercolors. She’s also a calligrapher, and here’s the surprise: she sells tea she creates by combining a variety of unique ingredients. “Tea has been my passion since I was a kid,” Sanaz reveals. “Drinking tea is a social activity and a good excuse to discuss subjects related to love. The aromas and tastes make people relax and remember where they came from. We all came from heaven and we all return to heaven. When we drink tea we can remember our roots and forget about our troubles.”

Visit AsheqArt.com…

 

 

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