If last Wednesday, September 24, represented the day the candidates for this year’s 12th Congressional District blasted out of the starting gate, then Saturday, September 27, might very well have been the day they entered the home stretch.
Saturday was not only the first head-to-head meeting between Democratic incumbent John Barrow and Rick Allen, his Republican opponent, it was the first time that people got to hear from the candidates themselves after the controversy that saw the forum relocated from the Islamic Center in Martinez, which was the initially agreed upon venue, to the Columbia County Government Center in Evans.
Initially, word leaked that Allen had pulled out of the debate, which the campaign immediately denied. Then came word that the Columbia County News-Times, the forum’s cosponsor along with the Islamic Center, was the one that pulled out, and that its publisher, who had helped set up the event, was being pulled as moderator.
Eventually, publisher Steve Crawford was reinstated as moderator and the forum was moved to the Government Center, though the true reasons behind all the shuffling remain unclear.
The first real volley occurred at 8:50 a.m. on Wednesday, when Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo issued a press release claiming Allen had informed organizers the day before that he was backing out of the debate, the first of the general election and the only one scheduled for the Augusta area.
The release hinted at the venue issue that would blow up later by suggesting that Barrow’s campaign was willing to “make adjustments to the forum,” implying that such a change might cause Allen to change his mind. The release also quoted Barrow himself. “I call on Rick Allen to reconsider, name a location for us to discuss the issues Saturday and once and for all face the voters to explain where he stands on the important issues we face.”
At 12:39 p.m., Allen spokesman Dan McLagan fired off a press release stating that it was the News-Times that had withdrawn from cosponsoring the forum, not Allen. However, it was McLagan’s characterization of the Islamic Center that made the biggest impact.
First, he called the forum “the Islamic Center forum Barrow is very keen on attending.” Later, the tone turned accusatory, with racially charged language implying that having a relationship with the Islamic Center would be somehow undesirable.
“It is interesting that the only two standing shoulder to shoulder on this topic are John Barrow and a Muslim cleric who are obviously attacking Rick Allen together,” said Allen spokesman Dan McLagan. “Barrow’s obviously close association with the head of the Islamic Center is his affair but it does make this a suspect venue for us. All of our contact has been with the News-Times and we would be happy to continue our conversations with them.”
Though the Allen camp strenuously denies that the Islamic Center venue had anything to do with the withdrawal that they steadfastly maintain never occurred, Augusta Chronicle President Dana Atkins told WGAC radio’s Austin Rhodes that Allen’s campaign headquarters had some “apprehension” over the venue.
“Well, I’ll tell you what — I had some reservations about the venue yesterday,” McLagan said Thursday. “And I think that’s probably what they were referring to, in that we’re getting attacked by Barrow and then by the Islamic Center, and it seemed like they were doing that hand in glove. And I think I made my displeasure fairly well known through a press release — that nobody was talking to us, but Barrow and the Islamic Center were coordinating an attack on Rick.”
Barrow’s attacks were obvious, but where exactly was the Islamic Center’s attack?
“I guess in my mind it’s coming from reporters that talked to me after talking to the Islamic Center, and they say that they had called Barrow,” McLagan said.
While attempting to downplay whatever reservations the campaign might have had with the venue, McLagan continued to question the choice of the Islamic Center even though the Islamic Center’s Hossam Fadel said he received confirmation from both campaigns on September 12, accepting both the time as well as the location.
“Look — I have reservations about getting out of bed in the morning,” McLagan said. “There’s always reservations, but that does not a not going to a debate make. I don’t know, I certainly felt that it was an interesting venue for Barrow to be pushing in the same way if we’d said we were only going to debate in a church.”
According to Barrow, however, Allen had already accepted the invitation when it was brought to him.
“He accepted as to the time, he accepted as to the place,” Barrow said. “And then it was offered to us to accept it or not, and we accepted.”
For their part, the Allen campaign made it clear where they stood.
“Barrow Lies to Georgians Again,” the press release read. “Ducks Proposed Debates and Tries to Blame Allen.”
In addition to all this, Allen says he offered Barrow five debates but that Barrow agreed only to this one, one in Statesboro on Oct. 16 and a Georgia Public Broadcasting event on Oct. 26.
Making the most of the brewing controversy, Barrow’s Richard Carbo sent out a press release at 1:57 p.m. that day saying, “Rick Allen’s comments are disgraceful and have no place in this campaign. Rick Allen agreed to debate, but chose to back out. Not only is John Barrow ready to debate this weekend, as our comments indicated, we were willing to work with Mr. Allen on a location that better suits him, but he has chosen to hide behind racially insensitive comments from his spokesman.”
The quick tempers and the open hostility between the campaigns highlight just how high the stakes have become.
For Allen, who lost the 2012 Republican primary in a runoff to Lee Anderson, a Columbia County farmer and state representative widely considered to be a weak challenger who ended up losing to Barrow by a relatively wide margin, a victory in November would be a kind of redemption as well as testament to the advisability of spending over a million dollars of his own money in his effort to win the seat.
The stakes are perhaps even bigger for Barrow, the last remaining white Democratic congressman in the Deep South. This is his first serious challenge since state Republicans redrew the district in 2012, cutting away his Savannah power base.
Barrow’s camp has admitted that polling data has Allen “within striking distance,” and they have been increasingly targeting supporters for financial donations in recent days.
At Saturday’s forum, Barrow appeared relaxed even as Allen’s impressive campaign bus was parked outside, the largest and most expensive campaign sign of the dozens lining both sides of Ronald Reagan Drive.
“We don’t need a bus,” a Barrow staffer joked before the forum. “We have Mr. Barrow’s Jeep.”
Allen started off talking about his personal life — the support of his wife, Robin, and the lessons he learned growing up on a farm — before mentioning the controversy.
“There’s been a lot of confusion about this debate, and… I’m here,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “And I’m glad to be here.”
Barrow passed up what some in the audience saw as an obvious opportunity — yeah, you’re glad to be here — by listing the three things he said he wanted to talk about: jobs, accessibility and accountability. He said he was proud to have played a leading role in expanding Plant Vogtle, deepening the Savannah Harbor and bringing Cyber Command to Fort Gordon and that when Congress wasn’t in session, he spent a lot of time communicating with the voters of the district.
The accountability came, he said, by holding Congress to the same standards as everyone else. Not only did he say he gives his taxpayer-funded health insurance subsidy back to the government, but during last year’s government shutdown he gave his salary to the Augusta Warrior Project.
“It was wrong for Congress to get paid when they weren’t doing their job and not letting anybody else do their job, either,” he said. “I think that’s wrong.”
Consistently describing himself as a bipartisan legislator willing to cross the aisle to find support, he was quick to draw Allen as another inflexible, party-line personality.
“I think it’s fair to say that if Rick’s elected, he’s going to find a good place up there amongst the bitter, partisan, do-nothing culture we already have too much of in Congress,” he said. “I’m going to continue to be independent and put Georgia over either party.”
This flies in the face of Allen’s insistence that Barrow votes with President Obama 85 percent of the time, a statistic that politifact.com found was true in 2009. Since then, the numbers have been significantly lower.
Both candidates agreed that a strong economy was key to a strong defense.
“We’ve got a war on two fronts, folks,” Allen said. “We’ve got a war with the economy and the overregulation of this government. His party has run up a tab that frankly our grandchildren and great grandchildren are going to have a very difficult time paying.”
Allen, who founded RW Allen, a commercial construction company, has been running as a businessman — someone who has had to make payroll and stick to a budget.
When answering a question regarding the government’s surveillance of American citizens, Barrow brought up the Constitution, a topic often favored by Republicans.
“Judges should provide the supervision and should be the guardians of the guardians,” he said. “The Fourth Amendment says no searches of person, places or papers without a warrant issued upon probable cause.”
Allen responded by saying there was a piece of legislation that would make internet files as protected as paper files. It has 270 signatures, he said, but not Barrow’s.
“If you elect me to Congress, I’ll make sure that bill gets through the legislature and I will protect our internet the same way we protect our file cabinet.”
Reminding Allen that it only takes 218 votes to pass something in the House, Barrow restated his support of a judicially supervised process.
“It may be cumbersome, it may be tough for some, but that’s what the Constitution gives us,” he said.
On healthcare, Allen was emphatic: “If you elect me to the United States Congress, I will work to repeal Obamacare,” he said. “It’s not fixable.”
After criticizing the president by saying his assurances that people would be able to keep their doctors and their health insurance and that their premiums would be reduced — all things he said had not occurred — Allen pushed a community first approach to healthcare.
“A good example of how we can take care of folks we have right here in Christ Community Health Services,” he said. “They take good care of folks, they do it for a lot less money than the government’s doing it, and that’s the answer to healthcare in our community, folks. That’s what I’m for.”
Barrow, a cancer survivor who said he opposed Obamacare at every step of the way and called Allen’s fact that he voted for it 28 times misleading, pointed out that Christ Community Health, Allen’s example of the superiority of local control of healthcare, actually receives a lot of money from Obamacare.
(For video of the healthcare portion, click here).
The audience of more than 200 people seemed to have come with their own opinions, and if they were swayed by the arguments made by the candidates, it was hard to tell, especially since it wasn’t until the last few audience-composed questions that people were allowed to see how the candidates thought on their feet. According to the rules they agreed to, Allen and Barrow were given the majority of the questions ahead of time.
Perhaps the most dramatic differences between the candidates came during a discussion on immigration. As a businessman, Allen expressed frustration with the E-Verify program, which determines the eligibility of employees to work in the United States. He also promoted withholding all aid to Mexico until the nation cooperated with the U.S. to close the border.
Barrow said he wanted E-Verify to be mandatory for everyone, and while he advocated a closed border, he maintained that closing the border was a U.S. responsibility, not Mexico’s.
Given the controversy that marred the process and the fact that the Islamic Center was still sponsoring the forum, it was inevitable that at least one of the questions would deal with the treatment of Muslims in the U.S., and when it came, Barrow responded to it as if it had been scripted.
“I think we ought to treat everybody with respect, and I think frankly the manner in which we came here today reflects the concern that some folks have about the way in which folks are treated in this country,” he said.
Rather than apologize or try to further explain his campaign’s response, Allen seemed to go out of his way to imply that an association with the Islamic Center was somehow objectionable.
“I think John Barrow should be asked the question why he insisted that the debate be held in the Islamic Center,” he said.
Instead of stopping there, he pressed on.
“I detest what is going on in the Middle East, and I know it turns your stomach, too,” he said. “It must be stopped. And what I want from everyone who’s a citizen of this country is to speak out and to speak out horribly against it. That’s what I want to see from every religion.”
The implication seemed to be that he felt the Islamic Center wasn’t doing enough to condemn the actions of Muslim radicals, and given his handling of the entire event, it was difficult to reject that interpretation.
If that hard line approach appeals to voters, then it might be enough to put Allen over the top, but Barrow clearly thinks it won’t.
“If I were to insist on anything, it would be why is it that we have the same moderator, the same sponsor and the same time,” he said. “The only thing different is the place.”
When word got out that Maj. Michael Donahue was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, it hit Augusta’s running community hard.
Though Donahue, his wife and three children had moved to Fort Bragg almost two years ago, he was nevertheless a valued member of the area’s close-knit group of runners.
“I saw the posting on his Facebook page,” says David Nance, one of his running friends. “At first, I didn’t want to believe it, so I ended up calling his wife. In a very short conversation, she confirmed that he was, in fact, killed in Afghanistan.”
Donahue and two others died on September 16 in an explosion outside the U.S. Special Operations base in Kabul.
“We’re calling it a run, not a race,” Nance says. “We’d just like to have people come that want to pay their respects to Mike by either running or walking a 5K. If folks want to go further, there’s obviously an opportunity to go a lot further using the canal.”
Nance says the idea began simply as a way for people who knew Donahue to get together and run in his honor, but when others outside that core group expressed interest in participating, the organizers decided to publicize it to a wider audience.
A unique feature about the run, Nance says, is that they’re not asking for any type of entry fee.
“All we’re asking is, if the person who comes to run or walk in the event feels so inclined, that they make a memorial donation,” he says. “One hundred percent of the proceeds is going to the Augusta Warrior Project.”
The Augusta Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization that helps support veterans by connecting them with the resources they need. It is a group Donahue supported.
“In 2011, while training for one of the 50 milers, he started raising money, more or less asking for a certain dollar amount per mile, mostly hitting up his military brothers and sisters, and once he completed the race, he donated the fundraising over to the Augusta Warrior Project,” Nance says. “It’s something not a lot of the local runners knew about.”
Nance met Donahue the summer of 2010 while training at the FATS trails for the FATS 50K that October. Donahue was a regular at the FATS trails and, like Nance, many of the local runners met him out there.
“He and I finished our run pretty much at the exact same time, not knowing each other,” Nance says. “We were parked next to each other and we were chatting, discussing the FATS 50K race. He pretty much on the spot decided he was going to do that run, and so he and I spent most of the summer training together.”
Donahue was only in the area for a couple of years before he moved to Fort Bragg, but during that short period of time, he made a lot of friends. When he returned for a visit last summer, an impromptu run was put together just so everybody could get together and run with him.
“He always had positive, kind words to say to folks,” Nance says. “No matter what the situation was, he always tried to find the bright side of it. He was going to be joking with you, laughing and always have kind words of encouragement for you.”
The run, which will start at 8:30 a.m. at the entrance to the canal at Lake Olmstead, is the first to utilize the new section of the Augusta Canal trail, which cost $1.2 million and includes two new bridges.
“Mike was overall just a great family man, a great soldier and a great friend,” Nance says.
The Michael Donahue Memorial Run will be held Saturday, October 11, at 8:30 a.m. at the Lake Olmstead entrance to the Augusta Canal. In addition, local running group the Augusta Striders has set up the Mike Donahue Memorial Fund to raise $6,000 for a Fallen Soldier Battle Cross memorial that they hope to buy and place at the entrance to one of the area’s popular running trails. A $25 donation to the fund will get participants a signed copy of local artist Carrie Brooks’ tribute to Donahue shown here, which will be available at the run. For more information, visit augustastriders.com.
Ever wonder what it’s like to fly in a B-17 Flying Fortress? Check out these videos from the “Movie” Memphis Bell.
If this looks like fun, head to the General Aviation side of Augusta Regional Airport (Bush Field) on Saturday, September 27. Flights are $450 and begin at 10 a.m. The plane will open up for free ground tours around 2:30 p.m.
For more information, call (918) 340-0243
Only two of the four candidates looking to fill Columbia County’s District 3 Commission seat attended Monday’s forum at the Government Center in Evans, but even with the reduced field, some 80 interested community members showed up to see how the candidates handled themselves in a formal, head to head atmosphere.
Evans attorney Mack Taylor and retired businessman Brett McGuire used the hour-long forum to highlight their reasons for running while also trying to stand out from each other. Democrat Floyd Everett was in the Atlanta area attending a funeral and Trip Derryberry sent word that he had an out of town business meeting to attend.
Not surprisingly, traffic congestion, Fort Gordon’s expansion and the prospect of a county hospital were all major topics, though there were some low key jabs against former Commissioner Charles Allen, who resigned along with his wife, Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, early this year amid an investigation looking into the tax commissioner’s collection of funds from Harlem and Grovetown.
“District 3, I think, needs a commissioner with some integrity, that is honest and trustworthy,” Taylor said. “I think we need a commissioner interested in hearing from the people.”
McGuire agreed, saying he had written a commitment letter as part of his campaign.
“I will have an open door policy if I’m elected,” he said. “I will have routine town hall meetings. On my website, I’ll summarize the issues that are taking place in the county as they’re taking place and not after the fact.”
Along with this plan, he outlined what he called a feedback provision, “so that the people in District 3 can get back to me and let me know how they feel about a particular issue and let me know their opinions, primarily to let me know how I should vote during the commission meeting.”
Both candidates expressed reservations about the county’s list of SPLOST projects, particularly the parking deck and renovations planned for the Justice Center.
“I’d like to remind everybody that the courthouse was just constructed 12 years ago at a cost of $14 million, if I remember my numbers correctly,” said McGuire, who ran for chairman in opposition to the idea of spending money on the parking deck when the current SPLOST list was created several years ago. “I don’t understand us wanting to commit more dollars to a parking deck than we did to the building that parking deck is going to support.”
Taylor, a political newcomer and former assistant district attorney, said that while he supported SPLOST collections, he felt the money should go to road projects rather than things like the parking deck and the proposed $9 million cultural arts center.
“If we look at moving the two of those things from the SPLOST package, I think we’re close to $30 million, which is almost as much as what the Washington Road widening project cost us,” he said.
Thirty million dollars also happens to be the amount of the county’s contribution to fund a hospital, should the state agree to green light the project. Taylor spoke enthusiastically about the idea of a county hospital, but McGuire was more dubious.
“A hospital is needed in Columbia County if the majority of the residents in Columbia County think that they want a hospital,” he said. “I haven’t seen any polling or any voting from the residents of the county to see what people really want.”
Additionally, he expressed concerns about the impact providing indigent care would have on the county, a worry Taylor seemed willing to dismiss.
“I just don’t think that we’re going to see the impact of that once the hospital comes,” he said. “I think if you look at the overall impact it will have on the community as far as job creation and businesses that are going to come to Columbia County in connection with that hospital, I just don’t see the indigent care cost having that big an impact on us.”
McGuire emphasized his point with a statistic: the county’s unemployment rate for July was .2 percent higher than the national average.
“We need to be working on job creation in the county, and I don’t mean just retail sales,” he said.
The biggest issue facing county residents, however, seemed to the roads, which are overcrowded and insufficient for the amount of traffic currently using them, not to mention the addition growth.
McGuire recommended better coordination from the county, including things like encouraging flexible work hours at Fort Gordon, identifying alternate routes and promoting the idea of carpooling.
“One of the things we don’t need to do is have several road projects going on at the same time like we do today on Washington Road and Columbia Road and Riverwatch Extension,” he said. “That really messes things up.”
Taylor’s response was measured and direct. “I agree that traffic congestion is going to be burdensome, but I think if you sit down and ask people if they’d rather not have the road widened, I think their answer would be, yeah — I want it widened.”
Taylor, who said he had crossed the 1,800-house threshold and was continuing to go door to door, said he’d heard the desire for better roads often since he started campaigning back in July.
“Let me tell you, that’s rain, that’s sun, that’s sweat and that’s heat,” he said. “We’re getting out there to get the word out, and we’re getting out there to hear from the people of District 3. It’s not my platform, it’s the people of District 3’s platform.”
On Monday, September 22, a fortunate few media representatives experienced the thrill of flying in a restored B-17 Flying Fortress ahead of the public flights that will be given this weekend at the general aviation side of Augusta Regional Airport.
The flights will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 27, and continue every hour on the hour through 2 p.m., at which point the airplane will be opened up for free ground tours until approximately 6:30.
Each 30-minute flight costs $450, which is tax deductable and helps offset the tremendous cost of keeping the WWII bomber in the air. Currently, only 12 B-17s remain airworthy.
“We typically spend around $15,000 a weekend just on fuel,” says Scott Maher, director of flight operations for the Liberty Foundation, the nonprofit group that has a lease to operate the bomber, which was restored for the movie “Memphis Belle.” “Engines are $150,000 a year, tires are $5,000 a piece. Does the airplane ever pay its way? Absolutely not.”
Maher says that while the cost is enormous — and the volunteer man hours to keep it operational are staggering — the plane’s ability to touch the remaining WWII veterans and their families is priceless.
He says family members often contact him after one of their weekend visits — they fly to approximately 50 cities a year — with stories about how their father or grandfather opened up about the war, sometimes for the first time.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Maher says. “A lot of the veterans who come out couldn’t tell you what they had for breakfast this morning, but they could tell you exactly what they did on a certain day 70 years ago.”
Flying in the plane, it’s easy to see why. It is a singular experience. Though the FAA requires certain modern instrumentation, the plane looks and feels exactly as it did in WWII. It doesn’t matter that neither this plane nor any of the other B-17s that are still flying actually flew in combat, they were built for that war. The radio operator’s station is exactly as it would have been on a mission over Germany. The exposed cables run down the length of the fuselage just as they would have back then. You can smell the exhaust and feel the wind coming through the open doors, and if you close your eyes you can almost hear the antiaircraft fire exploding all around you.
During the war, B-17s dropped 640,000 tons of bombs on European targets during daylight raids. A total of 12,732 planes were built between 1935 and May 1945. At one point, one B-17 was coming off the assembly line every hour and 15 minutes.
All of that is just back story, though. Once you’re inside the plane, first rumbling down the runway and then moving freely about the plane almost as soon as the wheels leave the ground, you feel as if you’re transcending history.
The Liberty Foundation was founded in Douglas, Ga., by Don Brooks, whose father was a tail gunner in a B-17 in WWII. The foundation actually owns two other B-17s, both of which are being restored with the hopes of getting back in the air. According to Maher, the foundation has a crew of 10 captains and 10 copilots to operate the planes, most active military or airline pilots, and at each stop they make sure they have a veteran B-17 crewmember present to answer questions and serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by that generation.
“That’s our mission,” Maher says. “We want to preserve our aviation history and teach current and future generations about the high price of freedom.”
For more information, call the Liberty Foundation: (918) 340-0243
For video, click here
It’s 13 days before the 2014 Westobou Festival kicks off and festival Director Kristi Jilson is in her office reviewing the fifth version of the festival program.
“It’s definitely crunch time,” she says with an anxious laugh.
“They were looking for an executive director, but because of my lack of fundraising experience, they brought me in as festival director with the opportunity to be promoted to executive director,” Jilson says.
What she lacked in fundraising experience she more than made up for in event experience. After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) with a degree in jewelry and a minor in fibers, Jilson opened a gallery with a few of her classmates, then started working for the college as a traveling admissions representative. Soon, she was overseeing all of SCAD’s admissions enrollment events.
Now, she’s in Augusta trying to copyedit her first Westobou program. Thirteen days before the festival starts.
“A job like this is so cool,” she says. “It’s different from Savannah, but the energy around the potential for growth here in Augusta has really kept me going. This is the best gig I could have right now.”
So what exactly is Westobou?
People have been pondering that question since the inaugural festival in 2008, and it’s always been difficult to explain, in part because it’s gone through so many changes. But after seven years, it really doesn’t matter what it is anymore, at least not to the general public, because even if they’re a little foggy on the specifics, it’s been around long enough for everyone to know that it’s basically an arts festival.
Though Jilson wasn’t here for all the other Westobous, she has heard enough to understand why people might be a little confused. After all, she’s still getting calls from people who think they’re part of Arts in the Heart.
“A part of me wonders if someone doesn’t get it because they saw it initially and because it’s had so many transitional years,” she says, though in almost the same breath she admits there could still be some changes on the horizon.
Ultimately, Westobou’s goal has always been to build the cultural community and social community of Augusta while also helping to strengthen the local economy. Originally, it started big — splashy, gaudy big — with hundreds of events spread over 10 days. Since that auspicious beginning, it’s eventually consolidated all that artistic randomness into five days focused on five genres, something that has sometimes seemed a bit unimaginative no matter how inspiring some of the individual events may have been.
By May of 2011, three years into the initial five years of the funding agreement, the festival reinvented itself with a new look, a new date that separated itself from Arts in the Heart and a trimmed down staff. Executive Director Kathi Dimmock and Special Events Assistant Virginia Atkins lost their jobs in what then-board chairman Cameron Nixon called a strategic reallocation meant to get more bang out of the festival’s buck.
Every year the board would present a budget to the trustees who managed the Porter Fleming Foundation’s money, and the trustees would come back in March and let them know how much they were able to fund. According to Dimmock, that year they were not able to fund the amount that it was going to take to continue at the budget level the festival was operating at, so they eliminated the two positions and put artistic coordinator Molly McDowell and entertainment writer Steven Uhles in charge.
The idea at the time was to make Westobou a destination festival rather than the well-funded local arts festival it had become, and that was achieved by bringing in fewer acts with larger draws, which that year included things like “This American Life”’s Ira Glass, country music singer Rosanne Cash, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and the dance company Momix.
It was still a 10-day festival, but it had slimmed down to 50 events from 212 the year before, and while in the past the festival would have advertised its pillar event, like 2010’s Al Green concert, and left each sponsor organization to plug its own event, McDowell decided to use the advertising money to advertise other specific events as well as the festival as a whole.
“We thought that if we advertized it and tried to sell the festival as a cohesive event, people might get it better,” she told the Metro Spirit in 2011.
By 2012, the festival moved McDowell to executive director and shortened it to a five-day festival built around one of the five spotlight categories — visual arts, words, film, music and dance.
Maybe more significant was the elimination of the complicated grant process. The Porter Fleming Foundation, which basically provides the funding that is administered by the trustees of the Academy of Richmond County, decided to give the programming money directly to the festival, which is basically how things are run now.
Rather than individual arts organizations trying to walk a tightrope between keeping their core audience happy while appealing a broader, festival-going public, the decision-making process — and the money — was consolidated.
“I think organizations typically start small and then start dreaming bigger and bigger,” Jilson says. “I think we dreamed big right off the bat and it was great, but I think we found out how difficult it would be to sustain that with the foundation we had. So then, I think, the idea was to be a little more restrained and really focus on what we’re doing, and as we build a stronger and stronger foundation, we can start to expand again.”
But all that is complicated water under the bridge and has nothing to do with the excitement surrounding this year’s festival, which starts on Wednesday, October 1, and runs through Sunday, October 5.
Part of the festival’s mission is to bring the community together with thought-provoking and engaging experiences, and Jilson and the programming committee have worked hard to ensure that each event somehow achieves those standards. In the case of Wednesday’s appearance by director Peter Bogdanovich at GRU’s Maxwell Theatre, it was less to do with Jilson and more to do with committee member and GRU film professor Matthew Buzzell, who brought up the idea and then used his connections to make sure it came together.
Thursday’s dance pillar will be the Complexions contemporary ballet company, which appeared at the first Westobou Festival. Performing a completely different program, their latest piece incorporates a Stevie Wonder song, which ties in nicely with singer Allen Stone, who will perform with Amos Lee, Patrick Davis, Priscilla Ahn and the Ramblin’ Fevers at the Old Richmond Academy Parade Grounds on Friday night.
“Allen Stone’s main inspiration is Stevie Wonder, so I think it’s sort of a cool connection,” Jilson says. “We’ve been finding these tiny little cool connections with everything that we’re offering, so it’s all sort of coming together.”
According to Jilson, ticket sales for the music event are double what they sold last year for Johnnyswim, which illustrates one of the challenges of putting on an entertainment festival — gambling on less expensive but sometimes unproven entertainers that might not always resonate with your audience.
“You want to catch someone who’s on the rise, and you want to be the one who has them at their peak because you want to get them before their fee doubles,” Jilson says. “You need somebody that’s a big enough name so people have actually heard of them, but they can’t be too big because then you’re going to price yourself out of the running. It’s finding that middle ground where the magic happens.”
Which brings us to singer Amos Lee, who Jilson says is something of an enigma.
“Some people have gone, ‘Wow — Amos Lee in Augusta,’ and some people have gone, ‘Wow — he’s still around?’” she says. “What’s great is we’re getting college students and then I’m getting a 60-year-old woman coming in here who can’t wait to get tickets.”
Putting the outdoor concert the night before the Color Run, which occurs in partnership with the Augusta Sports Council, was a decision geared toward giving Color Run participants something to do after they pick up their race packets. Then on Saturday afternoon after the Color Run comes what might be the most difficult to describe few hours of the festival, starting with improv actor and comedian Charlie Todd, who will first perform and then invite the crowd to join him in his MP3 Experiment, a free event where people download the same MP3 file onto their mobile device and then perform along with the rest of the crowd.
“There’s an element of you participating, but you don’t know what you’re going to do, so there’s an element of surprise, too, and then there’s this idea of a flash mob,” Jilson says. “There’s also this whole element of surprise for the rest of the community who doesn’t know this is going to happen.”
All of that fun runs right into a screening of “The Goonies.”
While these events are free, as are several others, the festival has made an effort to keep tickets at $5 for students and active-duty military.
“We wanted to bring in those members of the community that are a little further outside of Augusta, who maybe aren’t part of the downtown scene on a daily basis,” she says. “How do we bring more people in and expose them to Westobou? We get such great support from GRU, so why don’t we offer a $5 ticket?”
That marketing strategy — bringing in people who might not normally feel like an arts festival is for them — follows through to their advertising strategy as well.
“We just put up seven billboards this month all over town,” Jilson says. “We tried to make sure there was one near Fort Gordon to communicate that we were offering the $5 military ticket to Amos Lee and the other events, and we tried to put some up near areas where there was a concentration of student housing to communicate the $5 student tickets.”
Though Jilson has never experienced the festival she’s now leading, she’s heard enough about past events to know there’s always one that sort of takes people by surprise, and this year she thinks that’s going to be storyteller and spoken word artist Minton Sparks, who will perform Sunday night at Enterprise Mill.
“If you’re thinking spoken word isn’t really your thing, you might be surprised,” she says. “She does spoken word in front of a live band, but she doesn’t sing. For me, my jaw has dropped to the ground watching her performances.”
Though Jilson doesn’t know what’s going to happen after this year’s festival is debriefed, she does know that the festival, two years beyond its original five year guaranteed run, has at least another couple of years left in it.
“Before I arrived, the executive board approached the trustees and said that they wanted to bring in someone from outside the Augusta community, but to do that they needed to give them a better commitment than a year,” she says. “So the trustees committed to three years of funding at the same level as they originally started. So we have this year and two more years before we go back to them.”
She pauses, looks down at the program guide, and smiles.
“My feeling is that we’re going to blow them out of the water in the next couple of years and they’re not going to have any reason to back out,” she says. “They’re going to want to continue to be a part of this.”
When most people think of YouTube personalities they think of two kinds of people: those like Bethany Mota, the teenage fashion mogul who has managed to leverage her YouTube channels into a fashion line at Aeropostale and a spot of TV’s “Dancing with the Stars,” or all those inept dreamers with a camera who make old-school public access TV look like “Masterpiece Theater.”
Falling closer to Mota than “Wayne’s World” on the spectrum of YouTube success is Grovetown’s Eric Jordon, who has turned his love of remote control vehicles into a money making business.
“I joined YouTube in 2007 because I wanted to contact somebody on YouTube and talk to them about a helicopter video they made, and you can’t contact anybody unless you have a user name,” he says, which explains why his user name is Joehandsome99 and not something a little more RC appropriate.
But he talked to the guy, started posting some of his own videos, and not only did people watch them, they were asking him a lot of questions, which led him toward reviewing the RC products he was flying.
After reaching a certain level of popularity with subscribers and a certain number of video views, users can apply for a partnership with YouTube, which Jordon did. From there, he was able to monetize his videos.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation for me,” he says. “It’s my hobby. I get to share it with everybody in the world. And I get paid.”
And I get paid. Those, of course, are the magic words.
He won’t give an exact amount — he calls it second job money — but according to Social Blade, a social media ranking site, his estimated yearly earnings could approach $15,000. He has more than 23,000 subscribers and 23.1 million video views.
And that’s with niche content, not cat videos.
In the last 30 days he’s had a little over 3,000 video views and a net subscriber change of 460. From the computer in his backyard workshop he can track the popularity of each video. A video posted at the first of the month has been viewed 1,600 times in a total of 67 countries. His video flying the USS Enterprise has over 2 million hits, and a later video flying a lighted Enterprise made it on Ebaumsworld and break.com, two sites that share video content to a wide audience.
Through experience he’s discovered what he feels is the proper formula: seven to 10 minute videos, with three minutes filmed in-house and four or five minutes testing the product in the field.
It sounds easy, but he says each video takes about 20 to 40 hours to make.
“Think about it,” he says. “You’ve got to count your time from the second you put the box on the workbench until you click okay and make it a public video.”
Though he says he’s invested about $2,500-$3,000 in equipment so he can post the highest quality videos, he insists that’s a relatively low threshold to get started in something that allows him to make money — and get free products.
“Sponsors are sending things to me and I’m doing all the work for them,” he says. “They’re not having to pay anybody to do any in-studio advertising or video. It’s cheap advertising for them and it’s a hobby for me.”
Columbia County resident Greg Poole isn’t on YouTube, but he did manage to use technology to turn his love of the Georgia Bulldogs into a money making proposition through his “Leather Helmet Blog,” which he sold last year to Athens-based “Bulldog Illustrated.” Poole is now running the web portion of the media outlet, which publishes 14 print editions a year.
“We did 1.2 million page views in August, so we feel like we’ve kind of crossed a milestone,” Poole says.
Though he is no longer master of his own fate, the upside is that the “Bulldog Illustrated” has always been an accredited UGA media outlet, which means he now has access to firsthand information, where as an independent blogger he had to republish what other publications were putting out there.
“The most we ever did with the Leather Helmet Blog was right around 400,000 page views a month,” he says. “I realized I’d taken it about as far as I could without access to the program.”
Poole expects the blogging landscape to remain about the way it is for the foreseeable future, mainly because most fail to realize the amount of effort required into translating private passion into a public success.
“There are people starting blogs every day, but for most people it’s just a hobby,” he says. “After three or four months, instead of posting every day they’re posting every other day and then it’s every week and then every two weeks and then they stop. To work, you’ve got to go from posting once a day to twice a day to as much as you possibly can. When people come to you and they see the same thing they saw the last time they came, they don’t like it.”
Jordon expects the video industry to remain a fertile place for entrepreneurs.
“I think it’s going to continue to grew and get better,” he says. “I might not be interacting with the same social media websites, but I’m sure we’ll be doing something out there.”
When GRU associate professor Matthew Buzzell returned to Augusta five years ago after 14 active years in Los Angeles, the award-winning filmmaker knew he was leaving a lot of cultural opportunities behind.
“Every night of the week in Los Angeles I could see a film, and it didn’t have to be a new film,” he says. “It could be a classic film, it could be a foreign film, it could be an independent film — there was always something to see and do in Los Angeles. So when I moved back here, I was acutely aware that that was not gong to be the case. So instead of bemoaning that fact, I told myself I was going to roll up my sleeves and volunteer and pitch in and try to help develop the cinema culture here in Augusta.”
Helping develop the cinema culture meant getting involved with GRU’s Cinema Series, formerly called the Film Series, which had a history stretching back to the 1970s.
“I would go to the Augusta College Film Series,” he says. “In fact, that was one of the first places I saw foreign films on the big screen. When I was a teenager, the Film Series was here for me and it sparked my imagination. Without question, it contributed to my desire to make films and work in the film and television industry.”
Buzzell, who teaches film history and film production, is a successful documentary filmmaker, having made several widely distributed films, including a feature-length portrait of jazz legend Jimmy Scott and a pair of films with pop culture significance for Shout! Factory: “Group Therapy,” a Bob Newhart Show cast and crew reunion project, and “Excavating the 2,000 Year Old Man,” a look at the early collaboration of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
His association with the Westobou Festival — he co-produced 2010’s “13 Most Beautiful” and last year’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” — has culminated in this year’s appearance of legendary director Peter Bogdanovich, which is a collaboration between the Cinema Series and the Westobou Festival.
On October 1, Bogdanovich will be at GRU’s Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre for a conversation before presenting a director’s cut of “The Last Picture Show,” which was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1971, winning two.
Following the screening, Bogdanovich will participate in a question and answer period with the audience. Tickets are free to college students and $10 in advance for the general public, $15 at the door.
The Peter Bogdanovich celebration will continue without the director on Saturday, October 4, with a Westobou/Cinema Series Bogdanovich double feature: “Paper Moon” at 1 p.m. and “They All Laughed” at 3 p.m. These screenings, like the other Cinema Series films, are free to everyone.
“This is kind of a new model,” Buzzell says of the Westobou collaboration. “I want to make a formal marriage between the Cinema Series and Westobou.”
Several other films will be screened throughout the semester, including a new documentary called “The Dog,” which will have screenings at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. October 16, the Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” on October 23 and the new film “20,000 Days on Earth” on November 13. A Halloween marathon of ’80s horror movies is planned for October 25 and, in conjunction with GRU’s Lyceum Series, the school will present a day of French cinema and culture, with screenings of the children’s favorite “The Red Balloon,” Jacques Demy’s classic “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Winter Nomad” and “Mood Indigo.”
Buzzell says he’s proud that he and series organizers handpick all the programming, though it means he does a lot of legwork trying to see all the films prior to programming them.
“We know our audience very well and we try to appeal to all the different tastes out there,” he says. “But our main mission is to provide students, faculty and staff — as well as the CSRA community — with films that don’t play in the local multiplexes.”
He says it isn’t so much challenging as time consuming.
“We build relationships with all the various distributors and, when I’m in New York, I go and meet with them so that I know them on a face to face basis,” he says. “And when I’m in New York or Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time going to movies. I was just in New York at the end of August for four days and I saw three films a day getting ready for this semester. I tell people I could have probably done four, but I had to eat.”
One of the more surprising picks for the series is George Miller’s 1981 “The Road Warrior,” which Buzzell calls one of the great post-apocalyptic films and one that really needs to be revisited on the big screen at the Maxwell Theatre, where the series has relocated after years in a lecture hall.
“Many times, particularly in terms of my teaching here at GRU, I encounter students that love a certain film from 25 years ago, yet they’ve never seen it on the big screen before,” he says. “That’s why last year we had a big success with screening films like ‘The Shining,’ ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead.’”
Kicking off the series at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. this Thursday is the acclaimed Polish film “Ida,” which is still playing in the major markets.
“This film is a very powerful and meditative film, and it is one of the most beautifully photographed films of the year,” he says. “The acting is exquisite, and if I were a gambling man, and I’m not, I would say this film is a shoe in for an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film.”
Buzzell has a good nose for such things. Last year’s series included “The Act of Killing,” which was nominated for best documentary, and “The Great Beauty,” which went on to win best foreign film. The series has also hosted a couple of regional premieres before Atlanta or Columbia.
“What I love is that the series is free, not just for students and faculty and staff, but free for the community,” Buzzell says. “I love to think of that as a beautiful beacon of goodwill from GRU to the community. We want the community to feel a kinship to GRU and to the Cinema Series.”
As the Metro Spirit reported on July 24, the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences, formerly the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, and Pendleton King Park used a Wells Fargo/National Fish and Wildlife grant to clean up the park’s Lake Elizabeth pond.
Since April of last year, the Phinizy Research Team has spent over 500 hours on the project conducting water quality monitoring, groundwater monitoring, soil analysis and actively participating in the removal of invasive plants. Park volunteers have also been instrumental in the cleanup, partnering with other outside groups for additional help.
On Tuesday, September 9, participants celebrated at the ribbon cutting for the newly created waterfall.
The next phase of the project will focus on the restoration of a small historical wetland that will ultimately filter excess nutrients resulting from urban runoff. The filtered water will then be pumped back into the lake via the waterfall.
Here’s the original story: