Crossing Off a Bucket-List Item

Two weekends ago – February 2, I celebrated an event that I had dreamed about since I was in early high school—an art show. Sure, I’ve shown my work many times, but this one was different.

But first, let me preface you with some background…

High School Art Club circa 1989, My FIRST experience in an actual art museum: The Art Institute of Chicago. I remember staring at Georges Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” just like Ferris Bueller did in the infamous 1986 movie. I, too mesmerized at the pointillist’s entrancing use of color and could stare at it for hours. I nearly choked when I found “American Gothic” by Grant Wood. It was more peaceful than it was rustic, which surprised me. What I thought I knew, and what I saw were two different things. I realized I couldn’t actually SEE a work of art from a photo in a book or publication. It was so different in person.

I realized I wanted to SEE – truly SEE – more art. I felt a visual need, or gluttony moreover, to view more ACTUAL “in-the-flesh” pieces of art.

I also remember traveling back to Indiana on that charter bus and mulling over how I could feed this visual hunger. You see, I lived (and still live today) in a little town with just over 6,000 residents. There is no auditorium, civic theater, community symphony, nor art gallery or museum. What little arts took place in that town were at the school-grade level. And it saddened me.

I had dreamed about living in Chicago and visiting the Art Institute often as an adolescent. As much as I thought I’d live in Chicago when I grew up, it never came to fruition. My life path took me down a different road, and I have not regretted it.

Fast-forward 20 years to December, 2011.

My husband had become the mayor of this sleepy-little, one-horse town in 2004, and at this time he was in his eighth year in office. Of course, he knew my love for the arts, but he embraced them as well. As mayor, he also knew that when taking prospective business owners around this tiny town, there was truly no culture to even mention to any interested party.

That was about to change.

A kind and wonderful gentleman had decided to close his business. This soft-spoken business man had owned and operated a gift and card shop housed on the downtown square. When he closed the card shop, it was so sad to see it go. I remember being a child and going in there with my mom to pick out a necklace for a friend’s birthday, or maybe a card for my Mamaw on Mother’s Day. It was the “go-to” when you needed a gift or card. You just don’t get service and a smile like the warmth that was in his shop. Still, it was time for him to move on, and maybe folks were starting to drive that thirty-minutes for no smile and a dollar cheaper card.

This businessman had decided to give his building to the city.

Ironically, for a few years before 2011, a small group of musicians, artists, actors, and other locals interested in the arts had met in the high school’s theater (and I use that loosely, because it maybe held 70 people). This gang of dreamers continued meeting each month with plans that they knew were going to amount to something eventually. And they did. That mayor mentioned  the donated building at one meeting, and I recall that moment when he struck that proverbial match. Lights were lit inside my friends and I, who had sat for years in this group doing more talking than doing.

And so began the transformation.

For the next year, a handful of folks, including my husband—the mayor—and I, worked many weekends to transform this building into a gallery and small venue for musical events. What came was nothing short of extraordinary. The accomplishment, the dedication, the elbow grease, the volunteerism, the camaraderie. We were going to have something to show for all the meetings, clean-up weekends, revamping, reconstructing and rehabilitating.

*Please note there were many who worked on this project, but I do not have permission to place their photos and/or names on this blog.

That. Was a bucket-list item of mine.

Most artist’s dream of showing their work in New York, London, Tokyo, etc. I guess I’m thrilled  to show in my hometown. It’s minuscule to some, maybe. I think of all the people who planned, helped, raised-funds, and continue to make this arts center a successful one. I will always have that longing love of one’s first sweetheart with reincarnating a downtown building.

Folks, do what you can for the younger generations behind us. Funding for arts-related programs in schools are cut to the bone. There are many children who are not mathematicians, scientists, or athletes. That’s all I merely wanted when I had a gallery listed on my bucket list. Not that there was a gallery per-se, but that I—and many other art lovers–left a “gift” to the youth in our community.