Georgia’s second-largest city is an epicenter of arts!
I arrived in Columbus, Georgia, on a balmy spring day. My 115- mile drive from Buckhead was easy, unexpectedly void of traffic and an ideal start to a night away. Columbus sits along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, and when I dropped my bags at City Mills boutique hotel, I was elated to see riverfront views from my room.
Columbus has long been touted as a top spot for watersports and adventure, thanks to the world’s longest urban whitewater course where spectators can pause along the 15-mile RiverWalk park and watch kayakers dart over the rapids. As someone who much prefers indoors to outdoors, however, I came to uncover the unexpected side of Columbus: its flourishing arts and culture scene.
The hum of saxophone music floated through the air. I asked my guide, Shelby Guest, if the city pumps music through hidden speakers. She laughed. “That’s actually some of our Joyce and Henry Schwob School of Music students practicing. They’re in the parking deck for the acoustics.”
My tour began in the heart of downtown at The Bo Bartlett Center, an art gallery and education incubator located inside Columbus State’s Corn Center for the Visual Arts. Bo Bartlett is a hometown hero. His larger-than-life Americana paintings often span 15 to 20 feet and marry dreamlike and realistic subjects. For a suggested $10 donation, visitors can view Bartlett’s and others’ work through the center’s rotating exhibits.
Around the corner at The Columbus Museum, I embarked on a guided tour by Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art Jonathan Walz. Partially housed in a building that was once the private home of W.C. Bradley, a Coca-Cola shareholder in the early 1900s, the museum spans several galleries and has free admission. Permanent exhibitions feature works by emerging artist Jarrett Key, Michelle Obama portrait artist Amy Sherald and the first black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum, Alma Thomas.
After my two art museum visits, I became fascinated with what draws such impressive talent to Columbus. “Not being in a major metropolitan area allows people to be creative in a way that’s less filled with pressure,” Walz says. He points out that while larger cities might provide more opportunities, they can stifle creativity.
The area is a thriving community for visual and performing arts, both today and historically. Just minutes from The Columbus Museum is the Smith-McCullers House where The Heart is a Lonely Hunter author Carson McCullers grew up and is said to have written portions of her books. A mere 2 miles west is the Ma Rainey home where the influential blues singer spent several years of her life. Both are available for tours.
The famed Springer Opera House, now in its 151st year of operation, hosts the second-largest theater audience in the state, right behind Atlanta’s Alliance. Within a threeblock radius of the opera house are seven theaters and concert halls. One of them, the River Center, produces a version of The Nutcracker during the holidays that includes performances by an orchestra, choir and ballet. According to the local convention and visitors bureau, it’s the only production in the state that features all three.
I could have enjoyed a number of performances and taken in even more art at privately-owned galleries and studios throughout town. Instead, I left Columbus knowing this trip is not my last.
VISIT COLUMBUS GA
Wellness columnist at Simply Buckhead and dog columnist at Atlanta Pet Life. Lifestyle writer specializing in women's interests, travel, people and interiors.