Welcome to Colquitt, Georgia

“The Spirit Farmer” (aka “The Peanut Farmer”)
on 100 ft. tall Birdsong Peanut Company Silo,
dedicated in 2010, 27,000 sq. ft. mural handpainted
with rollers by Charlie Johnston.

We love a good underdog story, especially when it involves one of our clients. Colquitt, Georgia has a rich history and like many small towns, has had its fair share of adversity to overcome. After its population peak in the 50s, the influx of new technology led to the loss of low-skilled farming jobs and the outsourcing of manufacturing gigs.

By the early 90s, the town was dying and it broke lifer Joy Jinks’ heart. But with the help of a big city director she met at a leadership retreat, they found an unconventional way to reinvent and save their town: Swamp Gravy, a play comprised of local stories that celebrated Colquitt’s way of life, named after a stew-like dish with fried “fish drippings” and whatever happens to be on-hand.

It was a radical idea that divided the town. Why would anyone go to a play to hear local stories they already knew? Would there be any social backlash from telling some of these stories? The town was already teetering on the brink. The last thing it needed was a shove over the edge.

Despite hesitation from some of the townspeople, Jinks and director Richard Owen Geer gracefully curated the stories they gathered into a one-hour play that went off without a hitch and exceeded expectations. People got to show off skills their neighbors didn’t know they had. The town began to coalesce around the experience, and as word spread throughout the county and eventually the state, Swamp Gravy became a tour de force that transformed the town and is still going strong 25 years later.

Colquitt hosts about two dozen showings of Swamp Gravy each year. Many shows sell out and the majority of patrons come from out of state. The play has become so popular that a new, state of the art auditorium was built to meet the demand. Swamp Gravy was even featured at the Olympic Games in Atlanta and is now the official folk life play for the entire state of Georgia.

Even more impressive is that Colquitt’s once failing economy has been rebuilt and reinvigorated around the arts. Whereas most towns’ community projects are implemented by developers, Colquitt’s are funded by their local arts council, which has overseen the construction of Cotton Hall, the renovation of Hunter Theatre (formerly Colquitt Theatre), and the commissioning of countless murals. Last year, Miller County made 7.5 million dollars in direct revenue from Colquitt tourism. It’s no wonder economic case studies have been written about Colquitt’s success!

Colquitt is a perfect example of how anything is possible despite how dire a situation may seem. All it takes is one person thinking outside the box and a little elbow grease to bring a community together and create a new sense of purpose. We are proud to call Colquitt our client and wish them the best with their 26th year of Swamp Gravy. If you are looking for an autumn vacation or happen to be passing through, be sure to snag a few tickets for the October showings while you can.

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