Gilmer Arts was formed in 1979 as the Gilmer Arts Council (GAC) and was housed in a small rented facility. In these early years, GAC was managed solely by volunteers. In 1981 GAC focused on presenting touring exhibits, arts education and instructional programming.
In 1986 GAC received a two year Community Development Grant. This grant enabled the
organization to hire a part-time administrative director and to rent a larger facility which accommodated both office and exhibit space. GAC started offering adult arts and crafts instruction, and initiated the production of Light Up Ellijay, a free public arts celebration held each December on the Ellijay town square. By the end of 1990, GAC was producing art events and providing exposure for area artists as they exhibited their work under the council’s sponsorship.
In 1991 GAC incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit organization and changed its name to Gilmer Arts and Heritage Association (GAHA). The organization also began focusing on the county’s rich cultural heritage as well as preserving its artistic treasures. The GAHA Board moved the organization to a larger facility-the historic Perry House- and gained more space for an office, workshops, classes and a gallery.
GAHA produced the first annual Historic Calendar which was produced for several years. In 1992 GAHA inaugurated its flagship program, Bringing Ellijay Sensational Talent B.E.S.T.) Series. This series brings premiere award-winning national and international talent to Ellijay. Past performances were by Atlanta Pops Orchestra, Rita Coolidge, Ricky Skaggs and ShaNaNa to mention a few. Around this time, B.E.S.T. For Kids was initiated. This program supports arts education in our schools by presenting talented performers and sponsoring art activities for school-age children in our area. Past performances include Dancing Drum, Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts, Sebastian Baverstam, the Atlanta Percussion Trio and the Summer Palooza Music Festival.
The Gilmer Arts Community Chorus formed in 1999. This program, while sporadic over the first few years, has been very successful. Since 2013 the program has become a year round event which includes both a spring and fall concert. The current membership of that chorus is 50+ voices. It is led by choral directors from around the region. A mixture of secular, sacred and popular choral works is performed.
At about the same time in 1999, the Gilmer Arts Community Theatre was formed. By 2001 it was firmly established. In 2013 the troup of actors, directors, costume and scenery staff officially formed the Gilmer Arts Players. The Players currently perform several community theatre productions per year.
In the 90’s GAHA started a scholarship program in the amount of $500, awarding a scholarship to a graduating Gilmer County High School student. In 2014 the Gilmer Arts George Link, Jr. Scholarship fund was established. Scholarships will be awarded to three graduating Gilmer County high school seniors in the amount of $1,000 each in the fields of performing, visual and literary arts.
In 2005 GAHA purchased and renovated the building at 207 Dalton Street. The new facility
enabled the organization to expand its current activities and establish new ones. Member artists now had the opportunity to exhibit their work which in some cases led to solo exhibits. Juried shows offered artists the chance to display and have their art judged by well established artists. Classroom space and performance space were also created.
In 2011 GAHA began sponsoring live music concerts featuring local and regional performers.
GAHA also started a live, monthly event called Acoustic Blends in which local talent performs in an “Open Mic” format. To encourage and foster new performers, a First Sessions class precedes Acoustic Blends to help build the skills and confidence of these novice performers to play with others and in front of others.
In 2012 Gilmer Arts and Heritage Association initiated the use of Gilmer Arts as their DBA
instead of GAHA for marketing purposes, instant recognition for web services and general ease of use.
The Gilmer Arts Gift Shop was opened in 2012. The gift shop-along with the gallery-provides
artists with a location to market their art and the community a place to purchase quality gifts and art.
In 2014 the B.E.S.T. Art Series was initiated. This series is designed to bring sensational visual art exhibits to North Georgia. Gilmer Arts is partnering with other art institutions and museums to bring works of art to Gilmer County that would not otherwise be seen locally. Membership programs and campaigns are a vital part of support for Gilmer Arts. In 2012 a new type of membership program, Membership Rewards Program, was initiated along with the standard memberships. This program reaches out to community businesses to benefit our rewards members with discounts and in turn brings business to local vendors. In 2013 lifetime memberships were initiated.
Membership has significantly increased over the years. There are two major fund raising events during the year. Gilmer Arts holds an annual auction which began in Spring of 2000. Members, merchants, artists, restaurants and service providers in the community donate items to be auctioned. This event generates between $10,000 and $20,000. In addition, there is a Gilmer Arts Attic Sale in the fall. Donations of household items, furniture and more are priced to sell. This event generates between $1500 and $2000.
Gilmer Arts has offered a variety of classes since its inception for all ages to encourage
development of talent and to educate. Adult classes have included studios, watercolors, photography, pastels oils, calligraphy, mosaics and more. Summer programs for children have included camps for art and drama experiences. Gilmer Arts is a work in progress. The organization strives to improve the quality of life in Gilmer County and North Georgia by continuing to bring educational and entertaining programs in literary, performing and visual arts.