The Contemporary Arts Exchange was a group of local artists and musicians who used studio space together in the Washington Building on the corner of Mulberry and Second Streets.
This group consisted of a combination of people from all walks of life, from students and professors to gallery professionals and even lawyers.
Mercer professor Eric O’Dell was one of the members of the Contemporary Art Exchange. He became involved with it when he moved back to Macon with his family in 1994. He was searching for studio space and stumbled across the building that would eventually become the open space. O’Dell said that part of his reason for starting up the Art Exchange was to ensure that he and his students had a space to work in.
“They need to see what studio life is like, that art is hard work and requires a space to make it,” O’Dell said.
The studio itself spanned two floors of space and served as a place where students could go and work on their artwork, hang out and share their ideas. Over the years, artists and musicians have come together to share their art, as well as share it with others in Macon by having open studio days. These open days eventually became known as First Fridays.
“What prompted First Friday was we wanted to share the joy we had in the space and the stuff that we made,” O’Dell said.
First Fridays became an established Macon tradition, gaining funding by Newtown Macon and becoming more popular. O’Dell believes that starting the First Fridays has started a fire in regards to the arts in Macon as well as worked to show people that Macon can be beautiful and fun.
“We believed, and we worked and we created, and Macon caught up with us. More art galleries have opened up, museums, performance venues, restaurants… this is the best kind of fire,” O’Dell said.
The last First Friday that the Arts Exchange will be a part of occurred on Oct. 5. This last First Friday was particularly special for O’Dell, who has been participating in the event for many years now. This event was a chance for O’Dell and other artists to share their art one last time in a space that they loved.
“We hugged and we laughed and were held among those old dusty rain stained walls as if in a gilded frame holding a priceless painting,” O’Dell said.
Washington Building was sold to a developer, most likely to become a space for apartments, according to The Telegraph.
While there are currently no plans to restart the Arts Exchange, there are some new studios opening up in downtown Macon to accommodate the growing number of artists that are living here.
“There will never be another Exchange, it was a magical sanctuary full of tough and joyful souls. But, it spread, the seeds have been sewn,” O’Dell said.