Editorial and images by Carrie Beth Wallace
"Steeplechase? It's just a big social event in a field."
"Are there even horses anymore?"
"I don't understand the point. Why do people go every year?"
"What do you mean it's a Race for the Arts? Which arts? And why?"
We've heard it all, and if our team only achieves one thing this season, we hope it's a positive contribution toward refocusing the conversation around our community's largest single benefit for the arts.
Yes, the annual Race for the Arts surely has social components to it, but it is more specifically a benefit. Considering how many times we've heard the aforementioned questions asked around town, we've gathered that somewhere along the way, the tremendous impact the race has on our community year-round has been lost in translation or remains undiscovered in its entirety by the general public. Either way, we've made it our mission this year to change that.
Let's be very clear. This is not a result of Steeplechase, the organizations who partner with them, or any of their incredible volunteers. Their cause and message is presented concisely, consistently, and well. They know their cause and they live it across their organizations, daily.
And yes, our team adores the event. We certainly love a good cocktail, and we're unabashedly excited to see who wins the Southern Living Hat Contest, but what we're most passionate about is doing everything we can to help return the public focus and sentiment around the Race back to the actual reason Steeplechase was created in the first place.
A Brief History
Founded 35 years ago by the Lampton Family, Steeplechase was formed as a way to provide essential funding for many of the cornerstone cultural organizations in the Chattahoochee Valley. The Lampton Family chose to make the impact via a horserace because it's in their blood. They chose the arts, however, because they believe that cultural aspects of lifestyle are what make a community thrive.
A strong believer in the arts, Mason (Lampton) has generously donated the event’s profits to the local arts community. He believes that a strong cultural community improves quality of life. It has been proven that communities that invest in the arts reap the benefits of more job availability, economic growth, and a diverse group of talented people are drawn to the area."
Thirty-five years later, the impact of the Race is everywhere. Since its inception, Steeplechase has donated over $5 million dollars to the cultural beneficiaries chosen by the Lampton Family so many years ago. Beneficiaries chosen serve as the foundational organizations in the area, with new organizations added when deemed necessary.
But where do the funds go? How are they used? What's the connection between a day spent in the Guarantor's Tent and the cultural programming offered in our community? How can a horse race impact our children?
After years of reporting about Steeplechase history and Race Day activities, we found ourselves yearning as a team to dig deeper into the cause. We wanted answers to the same questions we've been asked around town. So we contacted as many of the beneficiaries as possible, collected their responses, and have listed them below.
We want to offer our audience a look past the finish line into the direct results of the funds raised on Race Day. If the beneficiaries answers don't explain why the annual Race for the Arts matters, we honestly don't know what else would. So, here are more than a dozen direct results of the funds raised at Steeplechase - reported back to us by executives from each organization this week:
"The Steeplechase ensures the continued success of Historic Columbus and the arts in our community. To see one impact the Steeplechase has had on historic preservation, all you need to do is drive around our city’s eleven historic districts and see the significant investment in renovation work with the assistance of HCF’s façade loans and rehab loans. Since 1997, HCF has invested over $1.4 million in these low interest loans for our historic properties. Because of the funding Historic Columbus receives, we are able to further develop our ability to revitalize, educate, advocate, and preserve." - Elizabeth Walden, Historic Columbus
COLUMBUS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
"The Columbus Symphony Orchestra is honored to be a beneficiary of the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens. The funds raised by this event aid us in providing quality programming through our Family Pops Series every year. These thematic family-friendly concerts feature popular music varying from film scores to radio hits and provide a great introduction to classical music for new audiences."
- Kristen Hudson, Columbus Symphony Orchestra
SPRINGER OPERA HOUSE
"The Springer uses Steeplechase funding to go towards general operating expenses in our National Historic Landmark. The upkeep of a 149-year-old building continues to be more expensive year. Having funds to allocate to our building relieves the stress of our bottom line, and allows us to focus on our education programs, productions, bringing in top tier talent from around the country, and other community outreach initiatives."
- Tate LeClair, Springer Opera House
THE IDA CASON CALLAWAY FOUNDATION
"We are grateful to be among the deserving organizations benefiting from Steeplechase each year. The proceeds we receive from this event go towards ensuring each visitor experiences an increasingly rare encounter with nature in its full, delightful glory. Other amazing projects and worthy endeavors of the foundation include: 1. Reduced Admission for Annual field trips for nearly 30,000 school children as well as a college internship program.
2. Children’s Programming such as Bird Fest, Butterfly Festival, Calloween and many more
3. The protection of endangered plants and animals.
4. Keeping Callaway Gardens’ acclaimed Birds of Prey Program aflight.
5. Seasonal Educational Programming such as the Summer’s Gardening for Butterflies and Fall’s Blue Morpho Butterfly Month." - Clarissa Chaudoin, Callaway Gardens
THE COLUMBUS MUSUEM
"We are extremely grateful to be a beneficiary organization of Steeplechase, which not only helps The Columbus Museum remain admission-free but also gives us the opportunities to serve children and families in our community through various programs. Specifically, Steeplechase allows us to make an impact through after school art programs, workshops that offer resources for Muscogee County School District educators, and by displaying the art of local students in exhibitions in the Museum's Pound Gallery." - J. Hunter Peak, Columbus Museum
"It goes without saying that RiverCenter is very grateful for the support we receive from Steeplechase. This is especially so because RiverCenter was not one of the initial beneficiaries when Steeplechase was founded. We have received funding from the event for the past five years. The funds we receive are for undesignated use and can go straight to general support needs of RiverCenter which is a rare circumstance. This is so very important as it enables us to present a broad spectrum of activity to the community such as enhancements to and subsidy for our educational programming lowering financial barriers for our audiences. The funding enables us to present free programming such as this year’s national touring ensembles of the United States Navy. The funds also support activities that are added on to performances such as residencies, lectures and special events to excite and inform our community. Last year’s three outdoor performances of Squonk Opera – one in front of the Main Library and two on the plaza at RiverCenter would not have been possible without the support from Steeplechase." - Norm Easterbrook, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
A Different Conversation
So, there you have it. The impact is far-reaching, multi-generational, and diverse. Steeplechase impacts thousands of children a year, protects natural and historic elements of our region, provides educational programming and artistic events for families, and the list goes on.
Join us for a different conversation this year. Let's refocus the narrative. Will you help us spread the word? Let's teach our children and friends why the arts matter in our community, and why the Steeplechase tradition is a cornerstone of what makes our community whole. The future of our community as one of the South's cultural gems depends on it. ◼︎
If You Go
What: Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens
When: November 9
Where: 214 Nelson Road, Pine Mountain, Georgia 31822
Cost: Prices vary. Tickets available at the gate.