Columbia County has a growing, remarkably vibrant arts community.
Since the formation 10 years ago of Columbia County Arts, Inc., the county has been drawing together artists from every discipline to provide a sense of a cultural community right here, rather than one with weak-sister dependence on outside agencies or counties.
County officials have been extraordinarily helpful in this process, shepherding the creation of the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center, along with the county's amphitheater and memorial gardens.
Columbia County has the artists, and with this infrastructure it has the venues for them to display and perform. (It even has a community newspaper celebrated for highlighting these efforts: The News-Times recently received an arts-supporter award from the Greater Augusta Arts Council.)
So, with all this going for Columbia County and its arts community, permit us to look a gift horse squarely in the mouth:
Why are county commissioners paying to accept as a "gift" the donation of an abstract sculpture being shoved out of the renovated Augusta Mall?
We're not talking about the Winged Nike here, or Michaelangelo's David. This is a 10-foot-tall, stainless-steel abstract piece called The Butterfly, commissioned more than 25 years ago by the mall's developer. (In case you missed the significance: The mall symbol includes a butterfly.)
Barry Smith, the county's director of community and leisure services, says the sculpture "will be a fine addition to the garden and will be enjoyed by many."
The Butterfly reportedly is valued at $40,000; county officials are planning to spend $3,000 to $5,000 to cart off the "donated" sculpture from the mall and set it up in the memorial gardens.
That isn't a lot of money, but this really is about the principle of the thing: These funds could more wisely be spent in support of actual Columbia County artists who would undoubtedly cut their county a break on costs just to have local works on display.
Money spent on arts and enrichment is almost always money well spent, and Columbia County has done an outstanding job in this regard. But putting thousands of dollars into a generic piece, just to get it out of the way of a mall renovation, is downright disrespectful to local artists.
It isn't a gift horse after all - it's a white elephant.
And please, commissioners: If Augusta ever offers to "give" us that bent-up metal monstrosity at Springfield Village? Just say no.
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