Downtown artEAST Art Center celebrates milestone

November 1, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

“It’s alive, it’s lively,” said Gail Baker, one of dozens of area artists whose work decorates the walls and displays of the artEAST Art Center.

Baker added that artEAST provides a friendly atmosphere in which anyone can enjoy many different types of art, from various painting styles to pottery and sculptures. She said there is none of the exclusivity or pretentiousness that you might run into in other galleries.

Founded six years ago, the nonprofit artEAST opened the doors of its current gallery and teaching space at 95 Front St. N., on Nov. 1 of last year. An anniversary celebration and fundraiser will be held at the gallery Nov. 5.

“The move here was really a major step forward,” said Karen Abel, artEAST’s executive director.

The art group and its art center formally occupied a smaller space a little south and on the opposite side of Front Street from its present home. Many longtime residents will remember artEAST’s still new surroundings as the former Lewis Hardware store.

If you go

Swirl, artEAST’s anniversary and benefit celebration

  • 6-9 p.m. Nov. 5
  • artEAST Art Center, 95 Front St. N.
  • $25 in advance; $35 at the door

The family-owned business had operated in the location for more than 100 years. Officials and planners of artEAST have left as much of the old hardware store intact as possible, including the bare hardwood floors. Look in the right spot and you can still see paint splatters near where the paint mixer used to sit.

The front rooms of the store now serve as artEAST’s gallery space. To the right of the main door sit works by the center’s visiting artist, a presentation that changes roughly every month. Presently, highly decorative and recycled globes by artist Tom Anderson fill the space.

Known as the center’s Collective Works, the main gallery area features any number of works by any number of local and regional artists, such as Baker, whose whimsical “Grandmas in Galoshes” paintings are getting some attention from visitors and buyers.

“It really is our flagship program,” Abel said of the Collective Works presentations.

She added that thanks to the amount of space afforded artEAST in the former hardware store, works can be displayed without much regard for commercial viability.

In the classroom area beyond the main gallery, Abel said artEAST held about 120 classes in the past year. She compared that number to what she called the “handful” of courses the group offered the previous year.

While Abel said artEAST is happy to keep some aspects of the hardware store intact, she wouldn’t mind being rid of a few others. As an example, she said the long fluorescent lighting in the classroom area isn’t the best lighting under which to complete works of art and also is hard on the group’s electric bill. A large back room isn’t insulated and can’t be used for much other than storage. Abel is hopeful the coming fundraiser can help with some remodeling of the center’s space, space she feels already has done a lot for artEAST.

“It really has allowed us to grow in so many ways,” she said, adding the art center is meant for the public as much as it is for artists.

“It’s really in our hearts to serve both,” she said.

For the most part, volunteers, many of them artists with items on display, run the artEAST studio, including its retail operations. Abel still is the only full-time employee.

“This place changed my life,” said artist and volunteer Michelle Sidnie-Ryan as she prepared a woodblock design to be used during the coming anniversary party.

Ryan said prior to volunteering for artEAST, she had the tendency to simply stay home and work on her craft. She said artEAST is comprised of some incredibly positive people.

Billed as “Swirl,” artEAST’s first anniversary benefit celebration will feature wine and food, along with art and entertainment. The art will include items available only that evening. Further, two center artists will “duel” each other to complete a painting, one with a brush, the other with a palette knife. Abel said offbeat entertainment will include burlesque and a tuba serenade.

“We have gone through some huge, major changes for a small nonprofit organization,” she said, adding the coming event is meant to raise the center’s visibility as well as dollars.

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