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Meet Jacob and Nina Elsas of The Patch Works Art & History Center in Cabbagetown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jacob and Nina Elsas.

Jacob and Nina, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am the great-great grandson of my namesake, Jacob Elsas: the man who, in 1881, built Fulton Bag & Cotton Mills. The mill and Cabbagetown have been in my blood since before I was born. I’m not from Cabbagetown, but I grew up around it.

My wife, Nina Elsas, has lived in Cabbagetown since 2011. We met in 2013 — at the mill, which has now been converted into residential lofts. Two years later, we got married. And while I have the Elsas family connection, Nina has a degree in Art History research that is guiding our little center and providing it with legitimacy. Together we strive to tell a very complicated but rich story about our adopted neighborhood.

The mission of The Patch Works Art & History Center is to preserve, sustain, and maintain the historical identity, relevance, and integrity of Atlanta’s Cabbagetown through exhibits of history and local art, and community-based public programs. The Patch Works regularly partners with various businesses, schools, and other charitable organizations to provide quality educational opportunities, artistic appreciation, and to perpetuate the stories of Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills, Cabbagetown, and its inhabitants.

Has it been a smooth road?
Like many other small, nonprofit start-ups, we spend a huge amount of time and energy looking for financial support. Placing a history center about Cabbagetown IN Cabbagetown was necessary — it would be fruitless to have our preservation center located in another area, regardless of good intentions. The challenge, however, is being able to afford the ever-increasing costs of a trendy, gentrifying neighborhood. Overhead costs, especially rent, are quite high in Cabbagetown.

Obtaining our 501(c)(3) status in July of 2018 has helped tremendously with opening doors to funding opportunities that otherwise would remain inaccessible. Before becoming a 501(c)(3) charity, we would receive financial support entirely from general fundraising campaigns and private donors, but now we’ve been able to apply for foundation and grant support.

Towards the end of 2018, we were awarded with several project-specific grants — an achievement that strongly benefits our mission — but we have yet to acquire sufficient assistance with our center’s overhead expenses. In addition, running our nonprofit center is a full-time job that has provided little compensation. Securing funding to cover operating costs and staff compensation will be crucial in 2019…

We’d love to hear more about your business.
It has been over five years since we first conceived of The Patch Works Art & History Center, but only a year since we opened our brick-and-mortar location (in January 2018). We provide meaningful experiences to local and other communities, by connecting visitors to Cabbagetown’s history through a diverse spectrum of visual arts, storytelling, and music. These experiences revolve around exhibitions from The Patch Works’ permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions from outside collections (we frequently collaborate with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, The Breman Museum, Historic Oakland Foundation, Atlanta Preservation Center, Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center, and of course, our neighborhood). The Patch Works welcomes a creative exchange of ideas and interpretations of Cabbagetown history.

Each month the center hosts an “Unplugged” live-music event that is free and open to the public. In addition, The Patch Works supports the annual Cabbagetown Reunion Day Festival, which original residents started nearly 50 years ago. We also proudly sponsor the annual Cabbagetown Olympics, which provides neighborhood community building through fun and friendly competition.

In the fall of 2018, we developed and subsequently hosted a three-part lecture series that was funded in part by Georgia Humanities. Because of its success, we have been asked to develop additional lectures. This year, in an effort to continue fostering community participation and interaction, we implemented two additional, grant-funded projects: 1) an ongoing, old-timey Georgia music workshop that is offered at least once a month and is free to participants; 2) a theatrical presentation of “Cabbagetown: 3 Women,” which will be performed in the spring of 2019 at Cabbagetown’s Joyce Brookshire Amphitheatre.

What sets us apart from most history centers is that we are located in a true, “open-air museum.” Cabbagetown is one of America’s last, fully intact vestiges of a 19th-century cotton mill and its mill town. In 1976, Cabbagetown was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and within a few years, Landmark District Guidelines were established to ensure preservation of the neighborhood’s historic elements.

So far, these guidelines have sufficiently protected architectural aspects of Cabbagetown, but unfortunately they did little to defend the original mill-working families, most of whom left once gentrification occurred. With the neighborhood demographic having shifted from a mill-working to a white-collar community, The Patch Works has been actively engaging and interviewing previous, “Original” residents, whose personal stories have been invaluable in understanding Cabbagetown’s past.

This past December, we received a technology grant that will allow us to install interactive kiosks at the center and to purchase upgraded video equipment to film and capture the stories of Cabbagetown from primary sources. The public will be able to view these stories and more while visiting The Patch Works.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I’m an Atlantan and love my city. That being said, Atlanta has not had the best track record when it comes to historic preservation. Typically, the city is so determined to develop rapidly that preservation is a low priority. Fortunately, there are quite a few organizations that have become dedicated watchdogs for safeguarding important landmarks and local history. Yes, absolutely, The Patch Works is in the right place at the right time, when it’s more important than ever to remind people of the past. We welcome other Atlantans to become more involved in their neighborhood history and create small, community-based center’s such as ours. It’s part of The Patch Works’ long-term vision that a network of history centers emerges all across the city and cooperates with each other in keeping Atlanta’s history alive for future generations to understand and enjoy.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Dean Hesse, Nina Elsas, Jacob Elsas, Unknown

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