Arts, education build on sustainable values of Serenbe
(Editor’s note: This is another story in the series on the Serenbe neighborhood in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga. In addition to eco-friendly housing, Serenbe offers unique cultural activities for its residents.)
Mowgli and Baloo the Bear romped through the woods of Serenbe last summer, as the Serenbe Playhouse staged “The Jungle Book” for the neighborhood’s residents. The playhouse is only one of the artistic and cultural activities at Serenbe, a sustainable community development southwest of Atlanta.
To fund cultural, educational and ecological activities in the community, a fee of 1 to 3 percent of the price of real estate sold in the community is contributed to the Serenbe Institute, a non-profit community organization. The institute then funds programs and events for the Serenbe development and the surrounding community.
Serenbe was created to be a sustainable community, with a high-density land-use plan that preserves much of the surrounding forest and family farms from traditional suburban sprawl development. The high-density development was created to not only protect nature but also create a sense of community, according to Serenbe founder Steve Nygren. The community also features an organic farm and equestrian stables.
“The institute supports the values that were identified by the developers and are now embraced by the homeowners,” said Rawson Haverty, one of the partners in Serenbe and a board member of the institute. “The appreciation of real estate literally becomes a funding mechanism to reinforce those values.”
Embracing the arts
The Playhouse’s version of “The Jungle Book” actually was performed along the wooded trails of Serenbe, and families brought blankets to sit on as they watched the performance.
“The Playhouse got good reviews, and hopefully it will become a fixture at Serene and will be another reason for people to come here,” said Steve Hawthorne a Serenbe resident and community volunteer.
In addition to the Playhouse, the institute brings in visiting artists and scholars to interact with residents in artistic and educational settings. Painter Michael David was the first artist in residence, and the New River Dramatists conducted storytelling workshops. The institute also provides support to Camp Serenbe, a summer day camp for children.
Residents and visitors can also use the state-of-the-art film and digital photography center that the institute opened. It provides a full array of photography workshops for both professional and amateur photographers.
Activities bring residents together, creating a common sense of purpose, Haverty said.
“Arts and education inspire volunteerism because it gives the residents lots of ways to connect in things they care about,” he said.
Education plays a role in life at Serenbe as well.The development is home to The Children’s House at Serenbe, a Montessori school for 3- to 6-year-old children.
For older children, the community will be the site of the Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, which will serve students in a five-county area. The school will open for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and a grade level will be added each year until it reaches eighth grade. The school was awarded a state charter in 2010 and plans to open this fall.
According to organizers, the school's curriculum will be centered on the arts, agriculture and the environment, said Hawthorne, who among his volunteer duties helped launch the charter school. The students will follow state standards, but they’ll take advantage of Serenbe's resources.
“When the students learn weights and measures, they’ll go to Serenbe Farm and weigh vegetables,” Hawthorne said. “They’ll talk about the history of the region and how it developed into a farming region. Our goal is to use our natural resources to teach the subject matter.”
Ultimately, the goal was to create an environment for learning for people of all ages.
“We wanted to create a culture of learning in the community and wire it into the DNA of the vision of the development,” Haverty said.
Topics: Sustainable Communities
Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.www