How Colquitt, Georgia Rebooted with Arts and Tourism

Who would have thought a small rural town in south Georgia with only vestiges of its former agricultural strength remaining would become a home for world-class storytelling? Well, that’s exactly what Colquitt, Georgia did! In the late 1980s, this city was in “survival mode” as the agricultural industry declined. Colquitt’s leaders knew they had to reboot. In this case, the proverb that necessity is the mother of invention was applicable. 

Creating an art industry began as an idea of how to re-create and rebrand the community, City Manager Cory Thomas once told the ICMA. Individuals from the community “gathered stories of their heritage, history, and community to put on the stage,”1 and the result was Swamp Gravy, named after a local stew. The play’s mission is to “involve as many people as possible in a theatrical experience that empowers the individual, bonds the community and strengthens the local economy while crossing the boundaries of, race, economy, and social class.” As discussed in Rebooting Local Economies: How to Build Prosperous Communities, this is the very essence of community and economic development. 

Renovation of a cotton warehouse into a theater building was just the start of a downtown renaissance. According to one study, just over $1 million has been invested in renovation and building projects, including a childcare center and storytelling museum patterned after the town square.2 The Swamp Gravy Institute, which grew out of the revitalization initiative, holds workshops and helps other communities create their own productions. The Institute also sponsors an annual film festival and an after school program. Swamp Gravy has been performed in Centennial Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Swamp Gravy and associated initiatives have created jobs and generated millions of dollars in revenue for the city and county. It is an inspiring example of the community development process with residents taking action to create arts-based economic development.
Colquitt, GA

Curious to see how other communities have rebooted their economies? Purchase a copy of our book, Rebooting Local Economies, to see how others have successfully rebooted their communities and economies in unique and interesting ways. 

1 and 2 N.A. 2021. “The Small But Mighty City of Colquitt Doesn’t Quit,” Icma.org

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