Johns Creek Arts Center and Drake House

Johns Creek Arts Center Executive Director Stephanie Donaldson, right, presents The Drake House Student Program Coordinator Caroline Choe with a $1,200 donation May 29 as part of the Arts Center’s Georgia Gives campaign.

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — After closing its doors for more than two months, the Johns Creek Arts Center reopened to camps and classes June 1.

Though the classes are small to ensure social distancing, and things look different with everybody wearing masks, Executive Director Stephanie Donaldson said it’s good to have people back in the building.

“It’s been wonderful,” Donaldson said. “I feel like we have breathed life back into the building, like the sun is shining on us. We want to share positivity, happiness, creativity. There’s enough of the bad right now.”

Donaldson took over as director of the center in February, only a few weeks before she was thrust into the chaotic world of steering a nonprofit through the storm of a pandemic.

“The Arts Center has been around for 25 years, and I’m not going to let the ship go down,” she said. “There’s just no way. It’s just too important to the community for all ages.”

First, the center moved its spring exhibit, a collaboration with the Atlanta Collage Society, online, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Donaldson said.

“Going forward, even when things are back to normal, we want to offer virtual exhibitions,” she said. “It’s a way to get the art out to people who might not be able to visit the center and for artists who are participating that have friends and family out of state.”

The center next collaborated with the City of Johns Creek on the “Share Joy” art competition, which highlighted the work of elementary, middle and high school students.

“We were able to join in that message of sharing happiness and art with the city,” Donaldson said. “We were very happy to have that opportunity.”

To support nonprofits struggling in the wake of COVID-19, Georgia Gives moved up its annual fundraiser Giving Tuesday from November to May. Rather than collecting funds for themselves, the Johns Creek Arts Center forwarded its donations to The Drake House in Roswell.

The Drake House provides transitional housing for homeless mothers and children in north Metro Atlanta. The Arts Center works with the Drake House to provide arts lessons for families in their housing. The Drake House informed Donaldson they needed funding to provide mothers with grocery store gift cards.

“We thought, we’re doing pretty good,” Donaldson said. “We wanted to do what we called a ‘greater give.’ It felt good that we were able to give to another nonprofit during this time. We were happy we had such a great response from our audience and were able to raise $1,200.”

Now, Donaldson is looking ahead to later this summer and fall to figure out how to offer as much arts programing as possible while following safety guidelines.

“We’re being very cautious, and we want to be contentious of our community, but we also want people to know we’re here,” Donaldson said. “We’re here for you and your families.”

Carson Cook is an Editor with Appen Media Group and covers Johns Creek, Dunwoody and Fulton County.

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