Ahna Phillips walked among the throng of elementary school students and their families on Wednesday, observing their art and bashful pride in it. Later, she presented a ceremonial check to Cumming First United Methodist Church for $10,000 on behalf of the Forsyth County Arts Alliance for the church’s 12th annual ‘Festival of Arts.’
It was Phillips’ public introduction to the Forsyth County arts community since she was hired for the new role of executive director of the Arts Alliance in February, and it was an appropriate one.
Since 2008, the Arts Alliance has supported the local arts by distributing endowment funds that came out of the sale of the Sawnee Cultural Arts Center in 2005 through the direction of an all-volunteer board of directors comprised of business and community leaders.
But the Board felt the time had come for the Arts Alliance “to take it to a more professional level,” said Anna Lyle, director of the Forsyth County Public Library and chair of the Arts Alliance’s Board.
Enter Phillips. She’s charged with maintaining the Arts Alliance’s longstanding function as a financial resource to local artists and art groups through grants, such as Cumming First United Methodists Church’s arts festival. But Phillips will also attempt to make the Arts Alliance a more visible presence in the community, include more artists and art forms, amplify the work of local artists and spearhead fundraising efforts to supplement the organization’s endowment, she said.
“I was excited to see the potential for growth for the organization,” Phillips said, “in terms of diversity in age, cultural heritage and artistic medium. The potential for inviting a broader audience of art makers, as well as audience, was exciting.”
Phillips is, of course, an artist herself. The Pickens County native is a singer-songwriter and published poet, and she studied theology in the arts in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Phillips also believes her professional experience dovetails well with the new executive director role. Most recently, she was program director of a fine arts studio and gallery for artists with disabilities in Austin, Texas, she said. Before that Phillips worked at a seminary, where she helped administer its grant process.
That is Phillips’ immediate priority. The Arts Alliance’s grant cycle is open for 2019. The deadline for letters of intent is April 19, and final applications are due May 10.
But Phillips has been plenty busy in her new role’s other capacities. The Arts Alliance recently updated its logo and tagline, and Phillips has revived the organization’s social media presence to help highlight artistic work in Forsyth County.
“We want to see how we can support the arts by amplifying voices,” Phillips said, “by showing up, by helping engage the rest of the community to be involved through giving (and) attending.”