Nestled in southern Georgia, Valdosta is known for its lush azaleas, blossoming art scene, and powerhouse sports teams at Valdosta State University. The traditional lands of the Timucua, Hitchiti, Seminole, and Creek people, the area was settled by the Spanish in the early 1800s, and in 1860, the city of Valdosta was founded, characterized by a robust agricultural economy.
Today, this mid-sized locale of 55,000 residents is also the home of the Levitt AMP Valdosta Music Series, presented by the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts and enjoyed by this Florida-Georgia line town’s diverse community. A majority-minority town (Black residents make up over half of the population), Valdosta has a large college-student population; its working population comprises everyone from doctors and medical staffers to armed forces servicepeople and budding entrepreneurs; and retirees from numerous career fields are also active in the community.
Further enriching Valdosta’s uniqueness has been its storied arts scene. Indeed, the earliest organized support for arts and culture dates back to 1903 with the City Opera House. The Lowndes-Valdosta Arts Commission was chartered in 1962, followed by the nonprofit organization receiving funding from U.S. Sen. Loyce Turner, of Georgia, to renovate a former bank building into a community arts center. The result? The Anette Howell Turner Center (named after the politician’s late wife), which is now a 17,000-square-foot space where people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes are welcome to visit and experience the arts.
The Turner Center—comprising classrooms, a community meeting space, and a world-class culinary kitchen—has also offered music programming. However, Turner Center Executive Director Sementha Matthews noticed that the audiences for this programming were not representative of all of Valdosta’s diverse cultural communities. It was this realization that inspired Matthews and her colleagues to apply for the Levitt AMP [Your City] Grant Award; they believed Valdosta could benefit from a program that emphasized the power of diverse music programming that could speak to residents of all perspectives. “I knew that the Levitt AMP Music Series would bring in Valdosta residents and visitors from different walks of life and experiences to connect with the music and, more importantly, with each other,” Matthews said. “We knew we couldn’t not apply.”
Having learned of the Levitt AMP program just before proposals were due, it was a race against time when Matthews applied for the grant. She quickly poured her heart into the application even though she was unsure who the matching funder would be—a requirement of the AMP program in order to demonstrate buy-in from the local community. As it turned out, she didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
A few months later, Matthews found out that Valdosta had received the $90K grant. She was overjoyed for what this meant for her beloved community—the all-new Levitt AMP Valdosta Music Series would give community members of all cultures an unprecedented opportunity to enjoy free, live music performances from regional and national musical artists. “For us, this free concert series represents unity—we’ve met people this season that we’ve never met at the Turner Center before,” Matthews explained. “The community has shown up each Thursday for the concerts with excitement and a receptive heart.”
The Levitt AMP Valdosta Music Series has boosted overall community engagement as well. Since securing the grant award, the Valdosta community has come together in myriad ways, helping to ensure that their first-ever Levitt AMP concert season is a success.
Hotels downtown provided rooms to Levitt performers at a discounted rate, while local food, beer, and wine vendors collaborated to establish who was selling beverages and food at the venue each week. Nearly every intricate detail of the music series was strategized by members of the community, who worked together to make sure the staff of the Turner Center could dedicate their efforts to booking artists and making sure audience members felt welcomed on the Levitt AMP lawn as they savored live music by powerhouse acts like mixed-race southern songstress Julie Williams, Brazilian twin brother band B2Wins, country blues singer Leon Timbo, and Latin pop-rocker Alyssa Dominguez. Described by Matthews as a “big present” to community members, the inaugural Levitt AMP Valdosta Music Series concluded October 26.
Memorable moments from this first season included artist Shamarr Allen saluting audience members whose dance moves he found to be particularly joyous, including the Turner Center’s own marketing administrator Rebecca Gallagher. “I’m usually behind the scenes, but when Shamarr was here, he legit got me to dance,” she laughed. “He did this bit with tons of audience members, too. He would name the dance after them—mine was called ‘The Rebecca’—and get the whole crowd to follow the dance. It was definitely a highlight.”
Looking ahead to next summer, one thing is certain: The music series has already succeeded in bringing the community together in ways both big and small. “These concerts abound with hugs, smiles, and laughter, not to mention the great music,” Matthews reflected. “They’ve reminded us of our uniqueness and similarities at the same time. Our differences are what make our coming together for free, live music under the stars so incredibly beautiful.”
For more information on the Levitt AMP Valdosta Music Series, please click here.