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Cultural arts center to carry on memory of beloved art teacher

The Robert H. Newsom Cultural Arts Institute is on its way to becoming a reality as the dust continues to fly inside of an old church building located at 116 S. Main Street in Bonifay.

Charlie Dykes of Southern Lights Productions recently purchased the building and partnered with Community Collaborative, a new nonprofit that promotes education in the arts and STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – to bring forth a new venue for all types of artists to gather, create and perform.

“Not only did Mr. Newsom really help me develop my artistic abilities, but he also gave advice. He was almost like a second dad,” said Elissa Pettis, one of Community Collaborative’s founders.

Robert ‘Bobby’ Henry Newsom left similar impressions on Holmes County students he taught and mentored over the decades. Newsom passed away in April 2020 at the age of 61. Before he left this life, Newsom cultivated beautiful art and lasting friendships with his students.

The building will house a visual arts center, performance stage, TV studio, audio studio, photography space and classrooms for budding artists and anyone in the community to utilize and learn new art mediums.

“There will be painting and pottery classes,” Pettis said. “We have big visions. People will be able to come here and use art as kind of a therapy.”

Before gallery nights ensue and performers can hit the stage, the old building must undergo a heavy renovation.

“I think this will be one of the most diverse facilities in the panhandle because if it’s arts-related, you can do it here,” Dykes said. He added that it will be a space for hobbyists and professionals to work on any medium they choose.

Dykes acquired the building to permanently house Southern Lights Productions now that the performing arts nonprofit has gotten its start from the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce building. Southern Lights will host talent shows and podcast production in the new space once it’s complete.

Pettis and Dykes envision the arts center becoming a vital resource in the region.

“We’ll be able to do indoor and outdoor events,” Dykes said. “We can do live music events. It’s going to be limitless pretty much.”

Bringing the arts institute to fruition is Community Collaborative’s inaugural project. Pettis said they look forward to welcoming the community to the new center once the renovation is complete.

“Getting to the finish line will be the hardest part, but we’re getting there,” Pettis said. “We’re making progress.”

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