Mill Hill Community Arts Center: Six Months Later


The sign in front of the community center welcoming in the people of Macon. Photo by Ethan Thompson.

Just across the Ocmulgee River, at 213 Clinton St., sits the community of Mill Hill—home to the Mill Hill Community Arts Center that opened in March 2018.

Mill Hill is the site of the first textile mill to come to Bibb County.  Today, the Mill Hill Community Arts Center sits in a fully restored recreation hall that once served the mill, its employees and their families.

J.R. Olive, project director for the community arts center and a class of 2009 Mercer alumnus, said that the recreation center was built around 1920 as a gathering space. He explained that at the time, when you worked for a mill, that it was an “all-encompassing, full-service entity that provided housing and entertainment—they had their own currency and their own law enforcement.”

Six months ago, in March, Olive received grants to bring on two artists-in-residence to manage the facility—Jeni and Forrest Gard.  The project in total has received $1.6 million from the combination of a private donor, the Macon-Bibb County blight fund and miscellaneous grants in order to bring art and vibrancy to the Mill Hill community and the city of Macon as a whole.

Since opening, the facility has hosted a myriad of artists, students and events.  Forrest Gard referenced, specifically, the facility’s “dance, sewing, painting, clay and do-it-yourself natural classes.”  


Jeni Gard recalled curating an exhibition of the artwork of “somewhat underrepresented” artists in Macon that still stands in the community arts center’s foyer.

However, Jeni, Forest and Olive at the community arts center are looking to the future with what seems to be bigger and greater plans than ever before—of which includes the Macon Flowers Project.  This latest endeavor is an attempt to build something beautiful that the entire community of Macon can be a part of.


By inviting everyone that “lives in, works in and also visits Macon” to create a small clay flower out of local clay the center hopes to assemble one large piece of artwork about “new growth and beauty” to be publicly displayed and enjoyed, Jeni said.

“Macon has a huge disparity—a huge disparity on socio-economic lines that line up almost perfectly with racial lines,” Olive said. “Therefore, I think that a lot of local Macon artists feed off that disparity.”  


Olive also said that the city’s position along the Ocmulgee River and its music scene have influenced the work created by Macon’s artists.

On Sept. 21, the center plans to host an event to create a seed bank of plants indigenous to the Macon area and provide an opportunity for those interested to create a flower to add to the Macon Flowers Project.

Additionally, the center is available to rent by the public.  According to Olive, a Mercer law student currently hosts yoga classes on Thursdays—which are donation-based and open to the public—and Mercer Service Scholars have utilized the space before.  To reserve the space, one should contact Jeni Gard at [email protected]

Perhaps most integral to the Mill Hill Community Arts Center is its managers’ mission: to do work that is not just making objects—but to make community.