Colquitt - Homegrown Tools

Colquitt, GA

Updated: 2022

Colquitt uses the arts as a tool for community empowerment and economic diversification. The success of a community-based performing arts project has resulted in extensive downtown revitalization and economic development.

Median Household Income2020$28,224
Poverty Rate 202032.2%
Proximity to Urban Center 63 miles to Tallahassee, Fla.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 50 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1992-2006
Municipal Budget 20197.2 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Colquitt, 2022

For four weekends in the fall and spring of each year, tens of thousands of people descend on Colquitt for Swamp Gravy, (2) a musical play that celebrates life in rural southwestern Georgia. “Northerners tell stories in private and call it therapy,” said Richard Geer, the creator of Swamp Gravy. “Southerners tell stories in public and call it swapping lies.” (3 )With a cast of more than 100 local volunteers, Swamp Gravy tells the history of Colquitt. The play has sold more than 120,000 tickets and generated well over $4 million since it began in 1993. The local arts council has reinvested revenues from the production into the revitalization of downtown buildings and the renovation of a local mini-mall, where vendors of arts, crafts and antiques have access to affordable rental space. In 1994 the state legislature designated Swamp Gravy the official folk life play of Georgia.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Strategically designed arts programs can catalyze economic development. Colquitt began with a vision of a community theater program that would stimulate economic and civic growth. The community created a specific plan to involve community members, specified what kinds of outcomes it expected and determined how the program would give back to the community. Stakeholders discussed and planned the causal chain of events ahead of time — beginning with the specific design of Swamp Gravy and continuing to the community capacity and economic growth that they hoped the play would foster. Colquitt did not rely on a shaky assumption that creating an arts program would cure the town’s economic problems. Organizations considering using the arts as a tool to empower and strengthen their communities should think deliberately about how the program will be structured and what the process will be to achieve desired results.


Small towns can use the arts to build community capital and defuse racial tensions. In small communities, the process of designing and executing performance art can provide unifying activities that connect folks in town. According to the Southern Growth Policies Board: “Swamp Gravy has won wide acclaim as an innovative way of bringing people together. The process, telling one’s story and/or working on the production (either onstage or behind the scenes), has served to form strong bonds among people, crossing racial, gender and class lines. Breaking down racial barriers in the community is, in fact, considered part of the program’s mission.”(5) In communities where racial tensions stand in the way of economic progress, the performing arts can provide a neutral space for breaking down traditional barriers and building new partnerships.