Mill Hill: East Macon Arts Village is a neighborhood revitalization effort that seeks to develop an artist village in the historic East Macon neighborhood, Fort Hawkins, in order to address blight and foster economic opportunity. The effort is a partnership between neighborhood residents, Macon Arts Alliance, the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, and many community stakeholders. Funded by a $134,370 National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town Program grant with matching funds from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, the Mill Hill project seeks to address the challenges of blight and lack of economic opportunity in the neighborhood known as the “Birthplace of Macon” using a three phase process:
Phase 1 – Restoration of the 1920’s Bibb Mill No.1 auditorium as a community arts center: The nearly 7,000 square foot auditorium was in danger of demolition by neglect when Macon Arts began stabilization efforts. Thanks to funding from both Macon-Bibb County’s blight fund, the Urban Development Authority, and a generous private donor, the $1.6 million rehab was completed in early spring of 2018. The Mill Hill Community Arts Center features performance and practice spaces, artist work and gallery spaces, as well as tools and technology any creative can use. The center serves as a hub for creative activities in the neighborhood with both free and paid creative classes and workshops going on now.
Phase 2 – Targeted restoration of historic mill cottages for rehabilitation and sale to artists in a single block of the neighborhood: There are currently 14 parcels along Schell Avenue and Hydrolia Street, in what has been dubbed the Village Block, that are slated for rehab and sale. These 14 homes will make up the artist village in which artists will live, work, and take full advantage of the adjacent Mill Hill Community Arts Center. Again, thanks to a partnership with the Urban Development Authority, homes in the Village Block are being rehabbed to fit the affordability standards of the neighborhood with special incentives offered to artists looking to purchase a new home.
Phase 3 – Creation of an asset map and cultural master plan for the neighborhood: Since 2015, in partnership with the Macon Roving Listeners and the consulting group Creative Community Builders, Macon Arts Alliance has gathered neighborhood input to inform a master plan to help shape future development in Mill Hill. This input includes thoughts and stories about where we’ve been, where we’re going, the pitfalls and the possibilities, the perils and the promise. Data gathered has culminate in a plan that informs everything from placement of new sidewalks and street trees to potential programs at the community arts center.
Originally a mill village located adjacent to the Bibb Manufacturing Company’s Bibb Mill No. 1, the neighborhood consists of a variety of architecturally significant housing stock that is largely in need of renovation and restoration. According to a recent inventory conducted by the Urban Development Authority, 46% of the parcels in the neighborhood are vacant with even more qualifying as blighted. A key asset of the neighborhood is an auditorium built by the Bibb Manufacturing Company in the 1920’s.
Macon Arts Alliance funded various arts-based engagement projects throughout 2016 and 2017 to gather community input and catalyze the proposed arts village. The Mill Hill initiative will empower local artists and neighbors to fight blight, identify and develop existing creative assets, and create a plan based on a shared vision for the future of the neighborhood as a creative place to live, work and play. Some visiting artists will increase civic engagement by mobilizing neighborhood residents as volunteers, artists, and in other civic activities. They will empower youth by working with local artists to engage youth in arts-based activities and attract artists and makers by offering workshops and resources for creative entrepreneurs.
A steering committee was formed with representatives from across the community. The committee represents neighborhood stakeholders, the local arts community, and displays a wide array of support for the Mill Hill project. Additionally, an artistic advisory committee has been formed to ensure that the project offers both artistic excellence and artistic merit.