The little town of Colquitt’s theme song is “We’ve all got a story to tell.”
The story of how Colquitt came to be a national model for Community Development through the arts and culture starts in the early 1980s as a journey of discovery and transformation. The citizens decided they had to do something to keep their cherished hometown alive and vibrant. Committed leadership organized a Chamber of Commerce which came together as a group to discuss possible solutions for their town. They did not choose the traditional approaches of economic developments in rural communities i.e. a chicken processing plant, a solid waste dump, or a private prison. The people of Colquitt wanted more!!! They wanted to celebrate themselves, their love of the land, love of family, and their Southern heritage.
Through a series of exciting synchronistic events, Joy Jinks met Richard Geer at a conference in New York. Richard’s vision was for community performance theatre based on stories “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Joy invited Richard to visit Colquitt to meet with their fledging Arts Council in June 1991 to present his dream of a new form of theatre. The Arts Council rose to the challenge of opening to new creative ways of reuniting and building their community.
Through a cauldron of creative chaos, Swamp Gravy was born. The first one-hour performance was presented in October 1992. Karen Kimbrel became the first Executive Director in 1993 and wrote the first 26 songs, including the theme song, “We’ve got a story to tell.”
The Swamp Gravy production caught the public imagination and in 1996 the cast was invited to perform at the Atlanta Olympics, The Georgia Governors Mansion, and the Kennedy Center in front of hundreds of people.
As the fame of Swamp Gravy grew, Karen and Joy were invited to speak to many communities and at national conferences. They shared the story of Colquitt’s transformational journey through the power of the arts, the connection of storytelling, and the beauty of participation. Karen and Joy witnessed others’ excitement as people realized they could replicate the success of Swamp Gravy in their home towns; the process of grassroots actions leading to empowerment of local citizens who take responsibility for the success of their town, rather than waiting for a big business to rescue them.
Through seeing others’ enthusiasm, Karen and Joy decided to invite people to join them in having the ‘Colquitt Experience’; to meet the volunteer cast of Swamp Gravy, to visit Cotton Hall, to enjoy The Tarrer Inn, to tour the murals, to learn about the town’s history, and to explore the beautiful Spring Creek wetlands.
The Building Creative Communities Conference, which launched in 2006, was the natural outgrowth of people’s desire to witness firsthand the living demonstration of a community who had chosen to thrive rather than simply to survive.