Posted on Jan 20, 2016
Coming to The Square with her grandparents is one of Dana Hickman’s first memories.
Hickman sat in the backseat while her grandfather read and her grandmother shopped. Making memories like those is why the new executive director for the Spirit of Athens said downtown Athens is more than a shopping destination. It is an experience.
The Spirit of Athens Board has selected Hickman to fill the executive director vacancy after long-time Executive Director Trisha Black announced she is accepting a job with Main Street Alabama.
“I am prepared to continue the leadership and energy for downtown Athens,” Hickman said. “Downtown is the very DNA of our beloved city, and we must grow for not only what we enjoy today but for future generations.”
Hickman serves on the Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association Executive Board. She has experience with real estate, property management and office management. Hickman has been a volunteer with High Cotton Arts and the Athens Arts League, a committee under Spirit of Athens, since 2014. She was the team leader for the October 2015 event “A High Cotton Homecoming with Roger Murrah and Friends” and set up the Murrah exhibit that is on display at High Cotton Arts.
Murrah, an Athens native, award-winning songwriter and founder of Murrah Music Group, wrote a letter of recommendation for Hickman. He stated Hickman demonstrated work ethic, integrity and passion for the arts during his fundraising event for High Cotton.
“She approaches life and its challenges with the kind of positive enthusiasm that inspires others,” Murrah wrote.
Black is serving as executive director until Feb. 5 and will assist Hickman with the transition. During Black’s 7½ years at the helm, the Spirit of Athens instituted new events such as the Athens Grease Festival. SOA also took on projects like the Athens Saturday Market, a program to bring locally grown produce and homemade goods to the public, and the opening of a non-profit art incubator in downtown called High Cotton Arts. SOA also became a nationally accredited Main Street program.
Black credited volunteers for ensuring the success of such projects.
“Without the buy in from our merchants, the community, the City of Athens and Limestone County, we could not have a thriving organization,” she said. “Our volunteers range from business owners to officials to students to retirees.”
Hickman said having an active volunteer base will be among her top priorities.
“Without the generosity of volunteers our town would not be as energized as it is today,” Hickman said. “Volunteers are at the heart beat of all we do. My adoration of our town inspired me to volunteer in several areas I feel passionate about in making a difference. Looking up citizenship, I found it is defined as ‘belonging to a city.’ For me that is my reason for volunteering.”
Hickman’s immediate projects will be the annual Chocolate Walk in February and preparing for the Athens Grease Festival in June. In addition, Athens State University will host its 50th annual Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention this year, and the city is preparing for its 200th anniversary in 2018 as well as Alabama’s Bicentennial in 2019.
“It is exciting to be on the edge of so many upcoming milestones in our city, and downtown will have a role in those celebrations,” she said.
Long-term goals for Hickman include a music cultural arts center to honor artists such as Murrah, Delmore Brothers, Patti Malone, Alabama Shakes and others.
“Educating and inspiring children in a learning environment along with museum exhibits for adults can ensure that new talent is born and great talent continues to live on,” she said.
Hickman said working with downtown merchants on projects and challenges as Athens seeks growth opportunities is another goal.
“Economic development is a vital piece of our downtown strategy,” she said. “To preserve our heritage and grow takes many ideas, plans and people.”
A personal goal, she said, is ensuring she works to continue the efforts initiated under Black’s leadership.
“Leaving my footprint on what lies ahead will certainly be my greatest achievement,” Hickman said.
With her job at Main Street Alabama, Black will work with communities like Athens that are members of the state’s network to assist those communities with projects, challenges and other needs.
Mayor Ronnie Marks said Black’s experience with downtown Athens will benefit Main Street communities throughout Alabama.
“Trisha Black’s energy level and vision were the catalyst for the business growth and increased activity in downtown Athens,” Marks said. “On behalf of the city, I wish Trisha well in her new adventure.”
Black said moments that she’ll cherish are not necessarily the landmark achievements.
“The moments that always made me smile were those such as a business owner reporting he or she had increased sales during an event,” Black said. “I’ll cherish moments like watching young people take pride in their downtown by cleaning up litter, seeing people peep in store windows at night, seeing parking spaces occupied after 5 p.m. and listening to stories from individuals reminiscing about their memories of downtown Athens.”
Black said those are the moments that fueled her passion for the importance of downtown revitalization.
“I am so proud of our downtown, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with other communities as they dip their toes in the Main Street approach,” Black said. “I will continue to be a resource for Spirit of Athens and for Dana as she brings her talents to the role of executive director.”
The Spirit of Athens Board will host an appreciation reception for outgoing Spirit of Athens Executive Director Trisha Black on Friday, Feb. 5, from 3-5 p.m. at High Cotton Arts on Washington Street in downtown Athens.
The public is invited to attend to thank Black for her efforts in downtown and wish her well in her new endeavor with Main Street Alabama. There will be a special presentation at 4 p.m.
The public will also have the opportunity to meet incoming Executive Director Dana Hickman.
Main Street is a unique preservation based economic development program.