Bringing Community to the Arts

Article by · October 20, 2022 ·

The new Executive Director of Arts Clayton is flipping the script on the traditional method of arts organizations. Rather than bringing art to the community, Brian Hebert is intent on bringing the community to the arts through a series of workshops, demonstrations, and parties to attract metro residents to experience the creative process and become artists themselves.

“My vision is to put Arts Clayton on the map as the most visible arts program in the Southeast,” Hebert said recently at the center in downtown Jonesboro. “We are adding arts programming on the weekends. We’ll have a Figure Drawing Art Party on the last Friday of the month, a Sip & Sculpt event during the fall, numerous demonstration workshops, a teen arts intensive program, a workshop on alternative careers in the arts, and an Academic Drawing class where we bring in a model. Long-term, we want to develop an Arts and Music Festival here in the (proposed) Four Squares Arts and Entertainment District.”

Arts Clayton is heavy on children’s programs, everything from face painting to dance. Innovative programs such as Campus Kids After School program, a “Read to Succeed through the Arts” literacy and reading initiative, and an Artist In-Residency program to highlight the organization’s commitment to art education that spills out into the community with programming in local libraries, festivals, and other outdoor events.

His father was born in Louisiana but moved to Los Angeles where Hebert and his twin sister spent their young years. It was the quintessential Southern California lifestyle with lots of sunshine and miles of beaches. Hebert remembers one day swimming with friends when a riptide almost dragged them out to sea. Staggering back to land took a while as the waves wildly threw the youngsters against the sandy bottom. “Our backs were stinging,” he remembered.

Hebert, however, did not turn into a surfing dude. He was compelled by an inner drive to draw, anything and everything. He filled sheets of paper with his drawings, which he kept hidden away for years. A high school teacher enlisted Hebert to create colorful banners to display at the school’s football and basketball games. That instilled in him a confidence to enter a local art contest. He took second place and the $50.00 prize that went with it.

When it came time for college, a friend had received a brochure about Southern University and A&M College. Hebert was convinced it was the place for him so off to Baton Rouge in his dad’s home state he went.

“I learned everything I know now from Southern,” said Hebert.

In addition to classes in drawing, painting, printing and other art disciplines, the young artist learned the business side of the arts by acquiring the skills of Art Installation as a Docent at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum in Baton Rouge. Art installations encompass works as divergent as video or sound that can alter the viewer’s perceptions of the world. 

“The courage to show a picture is the same as the courage to act”.

– Brian Hebert

Hebert returned to Los Angeles and supported himself as a freelance artist who painted murals in restaurants. Later, he was hired as a recreational therapist aid where he used art to entice the patients to see the world in a new way, to express their feelings, and to bring them out of their self-imposed isolation.

“That is when they start talking to you,” said Hebert. “I’d have fun contests to liven things up. Usually, the winner got a soda.”

His life changed dramatically when he met his future wife, Elenh, a mass communication major who eventually got a job with Turner Broadcasting. The couple moved to Atlanta, settling in Jonesboro. Hebert landed a job with the Fulton County Department of Arts and Culture, where he played a major role in the creation of the Southwest Arts Center, a 27-acre campus in the Cascade community where classrooms built specifically for arts instructions share space with exhibit space and a theater. What does theater have to do with the visual arts? “The courage to show a picture is the same as the courage to act,” said Hebert, noting that set design requires an artist’s eye.

Hebert was living the ideal life after his daughter, Esaba, and son, Adio, were born. Tragedy struck, however, when Elenh was diagnosed with breast cancer that claimed her life in 2002. 

“I had to stand strong for my kids,” Hebert said. 

He became a single father who poured his time into his two youngsters without giving up his time as an artist and an arts administrator. Both the children grew up to become artists. As a matter of fact, Esaba, at 22 years of age, has an improvised textile construction piece on exhibit at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans. Adio is studying business at college. Hebert filled his empty nest with four dogs, pit bulls and terriers.

“I see them as a blessing,” he said of his canine family. “They keep me up.”

Hebert still creates his own art, drawing sculpting, painting. He has done illustrations for several books. His many years of drawing took him in the direction of sculpting, which is essentially taking a two-dimensional piece and turning it into a three-dimensional model. He enjoys crafting functional vessels such as tea pots.

“I learned to sculpt with my drawing. In 2-D you have to add shading to give it a 3-D effect. You are tapping into the abstract when you think in 3-D,” he said. “The clay excites the nerves in your hands. I love the way sculpting takes place. When I get older, I’m thinking I’ll be a sculptor.”

His focus has shifted to Arts Clayton now. In a flurry of activity since he was named to the position in June, Hebert has already planned a series of exhibits and other events for the next year. When he was at Southwest, his planning was two years out.

“We are adding programs to make Arts Clayton more visible in the Atlanta area,” he said. “And we want to increase ‘though-provoking’ art.


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