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Alliance Anchors City Art Renaissance

The Lilburn Art Alliance is just getting started, but already it has big plans for the city.

Twenty years ago, Sonny Franks was a little less gray-haired, but no less enthusiastic about bringing art to Lilburn residents.

At the time, Franks first started thinking that something needed to be done about the wall over on the Cofer Electric building, located at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Main Street in Old Town.

His very first design -- an "old-timey," fictional company, the Lilburn Locomotive Works. He even approached city council then about getting it done.

"I didn't have any gray hair back when I first did that," Franks joked, "and, now I told them, 'We got to finally get started while I can still climb a ladder.'"

He later added: "I just said I'm either going to paint it, or die trying."

As one of those creative spirits who simply wants to share what he loves with everyone else, it made sense for him to put pencil to paper for public art. Several months ago, the Lilburn bridge design came to him. (See attached photograph.)

Art Alliance Forges Ahead

He made at least 10 over the years, and now, the city of Lilburn has finally commissioned him to draw that long-thought-out mural. That piece of art will spur more creative genius, Franks and city officials are hoping.

Thanks to the Lilburn Art Alliance that just may happen.

The group only has had three meetings, but already it's captured the spirit of Liburn's art-minded -- Franks, owner of Sign Creations; Peggy Sullens, a painter who has lived here since 1965; Alan Harp, an industrial designer who also owns a business in the city; and more.

"I would like to see some sculptures, some things that are more obvious or more public," Harp said in a telephone conversation with Patch. "To me that kind of stuff makes people proud of their area."

He added: "When art is done well, when public art is done well, it becomes sort of its own tourist arttraction, assuming you have enough of it."

Franks said that the groups invites all types of artists -- even jugglers -- to join the conversation about what type of art renaissance they want to see in Lilburn, specifically in Old Town on Main Street.

It's time out for residents to travel to other cities for talent that's right here, he believes. It can be like the city of Decatur, like Suwanee -- places where art has a home and people flock there to see it.

Mayor Backs Art Revival

Mayor Johnny Crist stands behind the Lilburn Art Alliance, as well. Four years ago as a council member, Crist said he was going to help get money in the way of bringing a mural to frution. He knew Franks wanted to do it.

"So, we started all these designs, and then we never could get any traction on it," Crist said.

Franks stayed up all night one night and had an epiphany -- a vision derived out of listening to award-winning muralist Eric Grothe speak at Stone Mountain's ART Station about public art this year.

"They guy was inspiring," Franks said. "He was saying, 'if you want to get public art started in your town, you just can't go put a picture on a wall. You have to have wow factor, and if it doesn't have wow, it'll be the only one you do.'

Like Franks, the mayor doesn't want the mural to be the only art to come to Lilburn. He also believes that Main Street can be a catalyst for sustained creative energy in Old Town, and possibly elsewhere in the city.

"Why should we let Decatur, and anywhere else, upstage us?" the mayor asked. "We've got so many people."

It's not too far off, he thinks, to imagine that the city may one day have a state-of-the art performing center that draws people from all over to see Lilburn's talent. Now, Lilburn artists go elsewhere to show their work.

Cities More Than Buildings

On the road to change, sure, it may seem like things are tinkering along, and not producing much in the way of economic benefit or an art revival, but Crist wants to assure Lilburn residents that he's working on it.

"A city is more than just a bunch of buildings," he said. " It's a people that come together and live together, do life together."

Art, which creates a visual and emotional sense of pride for people, can set Lilburn apart, he added.

It's a thought that many cities have already figured out. Art in places like Valencia, Spain; New York City; and even Pontiac, Ill., where Franks worked on murals that now draw more people to the city; are just a few examples of how art attracts visitors, and money. (See attached photos of Spain and Pontiac, Ill.)

The Lilburn Art Alliance is just one commitment to that. Upcoming art shows -- which hopes to have take place at least every month, beginning in January -- will be a barometer for how well the idea is received.

After all, any art renaissance is nothing without two things -- artists and a supportive community.

-- Think this will help the city of Lilburn's art community an spur economic development for Main Street? Let us know in the comment section. --

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Want to get involved?

The next meeting for the Lilburn Art Alliance is Dec. 19, there is a Jan. 12 wine and cheese event planned and then a Jan. 25 open meeting where all artists are invited to talk about moving Lilburn art's scene move forward. All events are held at 107 Main Street. Anyone who wants to get involved should contact Franks. His email is signcreations@comcast.net.

Other stories of interest:

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  • Nutcrackers Abound in Main Street Display
  • Lilburn to Transform Old Town Building with Mural
  • Speak Out: Future of Old Blue Rooster Site
  • Business Spotlight: Music on Main Street
Rethinknow December 12, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Mr. Franks my issues are consistent throughout. It's LEADERSHIP. I could argue and give examples of far less than adequate city/community leadership. It doesn't get any deeper than that! Honestly I don’t have objections to using “art” as an enhancement to the community. Having said that I would be willing to speculate the “art” you mention in Suwanee is in a far, far, far more appropriate “spot” and I’m guessing the Mayor (at that time) was focused on and actually had revenue producing businesses of substance prior to “art”. We don’t. What we have here, in Lilburn, is the horse and the cart in the case of art vs viable revenue producing businesses. The mayor and his “Group Thinkers” choose to put the Cart before the Horse. Because? It’s easier and it “feels” good. Now, if you're confused as to my references to excluding other groups you're kidding, right? You know these folks. No matter if “one” agrees or not the fact is there is a huge pile of leftover 1960’s thinkers. Some in LEADERSHIP, and I don’t mean Hippies. As to "LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY". You implied in our previous exchange that I should be a participant in the community. Ask the City Mgr knows who I am. He boasts, threatens etc, he will find who uses pseudonyms (great leader that guy). I have a record of participation that exceeds the average, by far... all for zero compensation. And I didn't realize there was a “means” test required for opinions.
Rethinknow December 12, 2012 at 09:19 PM
RL before they do I'll tell you. This "money" comes from a Business assessment, fee, charge, AKA TAX on businesses of a certain size. What these (some call themselves conservatives) are doing is the same thing done in D.C. Take money from folks and call it something other than a TAX.
Sonny Franks December 12, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Obviously, if you refuse to grow a pair and come out from behind your little curtain of anonymity, your vague references to "participation" are meaningless and lack credibility. Regardless of what your issues are with the city leaders or your opinion of public art, the artists in this town are about to make a lot of fun things happen - if you choose to dwell on the past, perhaps you should host your own Whine and Cheese reception....
Rethinknow December 12, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Gosh, yet again another "means" test... “Grow a pair”? I told you ask the city manager. You will find him searching for IP addresses (hopefully not on taxpayer time) of us who have no "pair"(s). You know as another city council leader puts it... "the bad guys". How sad that you have chosen to attack the messenger and, like the adolescents in Washington D.C., have missed the message completely. And here is a very important part. Not once have you answered the questions. You sound a little angry and a little attached to this. I just find it interesting that all of a sudden Sonny Franks is the biggest cheerleader in Lilburn. Do you really want to match resumes?
Sonny Franks December 13, 2012 at 06:28 AM
One of my earliest childhood revelations on the nature of BS was the scene from Wizard of Oz: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain". In answer to your last question - absolutely, bring it on.....

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