Suwanee Academy of the Arts is located in the heart of Suwanee. Owners Bernie Davis and Patty Etherton wouldn't have it any other way. The academy is their heart-gift to the city and community, and the two entrepreneurs continue to give back to the community with their life work. The arts are in their soul; it's truly a work of passion for them.
Etherton discovered her love of music as a child. She sang her first solo before an audience in middle school and went on to major in music education in college. Davis discovered dance with childhood dreams to be a ballerina. Her parents enrolled her in dance classes as a child and she's been dancing ever since. She double majored in performance and education in college and began teaching dance after graduation.
Davis and Etherton met at church in Suwanee in 1999 while working productions in the music and drama area. The two were a perfect match for each other. As their friendship grew, Etherton encouraged Davis to dream about opening a studio in the Suwanee area.
So they dreamed. Etherton drew sketches of building, studios, logos, and scenery. She became the visionary while Davis planned the operational aspects of the business. Davis initially brought existing students as seed families for the business. The two used a business coach to guide them through decisions and then their dream became a reality.
They started in the basement of their church and in September of 2003 they moved to the current location, on Main Street.To be clear on the purpose the academy, Suwanee Academy of the arts is an education studio for music, dance, and drama. “It is an education studio, not a competition studio,” Davis says and she tells parents and prospective students this up-front. “We believe art is a nurturing and growing experience” says Etherton. “We focus on teaching the discipline of the arts.”
The chose the name Suwanee Academy of the Arts with a purpose in mind. "Academy" was for educational focus of their service. They chose to put Suwanee in the name because they both live and work in Suwanee. “We wanted to be at the heart of Suwanee, literally and figuratively” Etherton says.
The original logo was created to appeal to young girls and their moms. It has a light purple background and is simple in design. In 2007 they changed the logo to be more reflective of the reach of their business. It's a more sophisticated logo and the image reflects the movement of the arts with the SA visible as the company initials.
The academy includes group instruction in drama, music, musical theater, and dance. Private instruction is available in voice and musical instruments. The facility is much larger than it looks from the street with dedicated rooms for dance, drama, and music. There are also smaller private rooms for individual lessons.
Etherton's and Davis' goal with the education is to get the students performance ready and to give students the tools to succeed with their art. There is a large end of year performance that includes music, dance, and drama. This past year they performed an interpretation of "Alice in Wonderland." They used different age actresses to play Alice through the story, stage props, music, and lots of hard work.
The two entrepreneurs aim to attract and retain quality instructors that have a heart for teaching. Today they have 12 instructors that are certified in their respective fields. “Finding passionate employees takes time” says Etherton. “When you walk through these doors you get to perform your art” says Davis. “When you are in your art, time does not exist. You are there in the moment, can you do it forever.”
As with most businesses, they have seen an impact with economic downturns. In some cases their cash flow was delayed, or they lost clients for a brief time. But Etherton and Davis are generous in heart and have made allowances for scholarships as well as families working through employment difficulties. It's working for them. Despite the recent recession, they grew the number of students they are able to teach year over year.
Word-of-mouth is their largest referral. They do some traditional advertising, but really use email, events calendars, and word-of-mouth. Etherton says they hope to expand to YouTube and video in the future.
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