First lady Sandra Deal tours arts, education in LaGrange
Matthew Strother News editor
Georgia first lady Sandra Deal “just had a ball” during her tour of LaGrange on Wednesday, visiting many of the area’s cultural attractions, and reading a book to students at two schools.
Deal said she liked how the different artistic groups and foundations work independently, yet cooperate.
“It’s very nice,” she said. “That’s how you make progress.”
The first lady’s visits included Price Theater and the Lamar Dodd Art Center at LaGrange College, the Explorations In Antiquity Center, Hills and Dales Estate, LaGrange Art Museum and finally the Legacy Museum on Main Street. She also stopped at Rosemont Elementary and Ethel Kight Magnet schools, where she read “Who I’d Like to Be,” a book written by the late Elizabeth Brown, a Georgia resident, and illustrated by her great granddaughter, who was 6 when the book was written.
Deal said with the school readings, where she engaged pre-k and kindergarten students with the book’s illustrations, she hoped to generate an interest in reading by relating the young age of the artist. A former teacher, Deal said she used to see sixth grade students without a grasp on reading the learning problems it caused.
“My goal is to encourage them to want to learn to read, to put forth the effort to get them involved with reading the book so one day it will click with them and they’ll want to learn to read,” she said. “If they can be accomplished readers by third grade, it opens up a whole new world to them.”
At the Legacy Museum Wednesday afternoon, Deal, who co-chaired the committee for the traveling New Horizons exhibit, said she was at the launch of the exhibit in Calhoun, and wanted to see it for its last stop in LaGrange.
“What she’s done for the Legacy Museum – this is an awesome way to draw attention to the New Horizon exhibit,” said Kaye Minchew, director of the museum and Troup County Archives.
Helen Rice, third congressional district representative for the Georgia Board of Education, said she has been friends with the Deals since they lived in Gainesville and said Minchew wanted Sandra Deal to come and see the arts LaGrange had to offer. Deal decided to make the stops at the two schools along the way.
“(Minchew) wanted to bring her here for the humanities and arts, to see a cross-section of what goes in in our little city,” Rice said. “… It was a great day to experience the talent we have in this town and everything we have to offer here.”
Other state officials at the Legacy Museum Wednesday also noted a unique artistic culture in LaGrange. Jamil Zainaldin, president of the Georgia Humanities Council, was at the museum Wednesday with Deal and said he felt “LaGrange is really a special community.”
“I’ve been all over the state, and what I see in LaGrange is arts, culture, philanthropy and education all working together,” he said. “You can see it when you come into the town; it’s just different.”
Zainaldin said the Legacy Museum is “one of the finest in the state,” housing not only the museum, which features permanent and traveling exhibits, but the county archives.
“All the resources you have here, you make good use of,” he said. “… Resources that you don’t have in other cities, like the Callaway Foundation … It’s really a very special place. There’s something about the willingness of the people to talk to each other across the fences and get things going here.”
Karen Paty, director of the Georgia Council of Arts, said LaGrange has “an incredibly vibrant arts community.”
“LaGrange is really a successful … bullhorn for the the humanities and arts and interconnectedness of the two in a community,” Paty said.”… There are communities who weave the arts into the fabric of their story (and) LaGrange is one of them. There’s something unique about LaGrange and how art tells that story.”
She said the efforts of the community “shine through” in efforts like the Legacy Museum.
Deal said she enjoyed all her stops, noting that the Explorations in Antiquities Center was a true “hidden gem” of the state. She said more people should be aware of something so unique, especially in a small town like LaGrange.
“I had a wonderful day today,” she said.
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