While there is room for expansion and development in the way of creative venues, outlets, business opportunities and communities in the Ohio Valley, there are some promising pockets of activity and inspiration.
Because Wheeling is the largest city in the area, people are inclined to travel there for entertainment and cultural events. Oglebay Institute (www.oionline. com) is one of the oldest arts and culture proponents having started in the early 1930s. Kathleen McDermott, president, credits the organization's staying power with the ability to identify trends and correlate their offerings to audiences and participants.
"Most children get a visual arts and music base through their schools right now," said McDermott. "Those are the building blocks. We can take that to the next level. There's now a middle school drama group at Towngate Theatre. Stifel Fine Arts Center is offering classes to younger students. We're getting into digital media and film making."
T-L Photo/GLYNIS VALENTI
The Hays Gallery is tucked behind the Hays Landscape Architecture Studio. Philip Cole says he finds working around the art “inspiring.”
The Institute has long been a venue for artists to teach their crafts to both children and adults. This spring, yoga, Pilates and belly dancing classes will join jewelry making and painting. Offerings are posted on the website and through a monthly online newsletter.
Brad Johnson, curator and educator at Stifel Fine Arts Center, said they assist students who want to pursue art through the regional high school art show and a program funded by the Elizabeth Stifel Klin Foundation which gives students hands-on instruction on matting, framing and photographing their work for presentation and shows.
Up on the hill at West Liberty University, Robert Villamagna, artist and assistant professor of art, is also the director of the Nutting Gallery (on Facebook) in the Fine Arts Building. Eight shows annually vary from student work to internationally known artists. Openings, held the first night of each show, are free and open to the public.
Wheeling's Centre Market district is home to several creative and complementary businesses. Artworks Around Town is a non-profit gallery formed in the 1990s by local artists who display their own work, volunteer time at the gallery and provide classes in jewelry making and painting. The third Friday of the month AAT offers live entertainment at the gallery, promoting local talent. On the first Friday, across the street, Casa di Vino/Market Vines hosts music. They've also done special educational wine classes and Fala Carte "paint and sip" classes with artist Andree Weimer.
One block north, Towngate Theatre, part of the Oglebay Institute, hosts films and dramatic productions on a regular basis. Some of the plays are written by playwright Tom Stobart, who has owned Paradox Books since 1974, at Centre Market since 1978.
Downtown, the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra has been in existence for more than 80 years. Wheeling is the smallest city in the country with an orchestra this size. Their program offers a variety of classical and pops concerts each year, and members participate in arts in education and youth orchestra projects.
On a different creative note, another group is on the scene in Wheeling: the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists (www.ovyp. org.) The group formed in October 2012, says Elizabeth Paulhus, one of the founders, because of "the alarming number of beautiful old buildings coming down in the city of Wheeling," either by order or through neglect.
Since returning to her native city, Paulhus spends a lot of time researching and touring Wheeling's structural history, and the Young Preservationists hope to raise awareness about the importance of preservation and link developers to buildings on projects that will provide services, jobs and opportunities to the community while filling in downtown vacancies. One project Paulhus has been exploring is utilizing a building for studio and living space for local artists. What is needed, she noted, is local government and community buy-in in the form of incentives and subsidies to help developers re-coup their costs and keep rent manageable for artists.
Dave Adams created OhioValleyLiveMusic.com in 2009 after trying to locate places to listen to live music. Now, with a listing of more than 275 bands, Adams said the site covers a radius of around 200 miles - Pittsburgh, Charleston, Morgantown, Marietta to Cambridge - with 4,000 visitors per week.
With Appalachia's musical history, Adams is hoping to see live entertainment continue to grow. "I meet a lot of super great talent. Music is not only an outlet, but an emotional experience. There are a number of area musicians that are very good performers."
Across the Ohio River, towns are smaller and venues less visible, but treasures are there for the seekers. In Martins Ferry, Siena Baldi and friends have been restoring her family home into live/studio space and offering classes in print making with an antique press, stained glass and silk screening side by side with a number of do-it-yourself home craft workshops and a community garden. The MITCH Collective (www.mitchcollective.org), a non-profit, regularly collaborates with other entities like the Children's Museum of Wheeling and various school districts.
At Holy Grounds Coffee House, a Thursday night program by Grace Presbyterian Church in Martins Ferry, budding, emerging and seasoned music artists have the opportunity to share their gifts with a live audience. Coffee and snacks are inexpensive; the microphone is open for at least part of the evening; the atmosphere is supportive.
A small group of businesses in St. Clairsville is informally developing a "SoHo" district. At the corner of E. Main and Sugar Streets, A.J. Zambito's Grindhouse Coffee & Tea Co. (on Facebook) has been hosting live music acts since opening the store almost two years ago. A few steps west on Main St., Hays Landscape Architecture Studio has a gallery space featuring four local artists. A music teacher has moved into a building across the street from the coffee shop, and within the last month, artist Andree Weimer has brought her painting studio and gallery to the space next door to the Grindhouse.
"It's kind of exciting," noted Philip Cole of Hays LAS. "We've met so many incredible people. Artists seem so isolated here. It's a community thought process that we're trying to develop."
Hays LAS itself is a creative business, and their office and gallery space incorporate artistic, historic and repurposed elements. Two columns from the original Oglebay Mansion delineate the office from the gallery. Two stained glass windows hang in remembrance of the pre-renovated Thoburn United Methodist Church, and a decorative sidewalk tree grate is made from slices of an engine block. Cole and Gabe Hays say that they're looking forward to optimizing the space's potential with humanities lectures and poetry readings and hosting more artist events with the other businesses.
A creative culture encompasses more than the traditional artists with paints or guitars. Cole adds that Hays LAS has been invited to participate in an upcoming show at Ohio University Eastern. Entries from local businesses will show how they use art and creativity in their work. It will be open to the public on March 25, and an artists' reception, also open to the public, will be held Thursday, April 4 at 7 p.m.
Barnesville Memorial Park has a list of more than 20 music concerts to appear at its Albert S. George Youth Center this year. In January, international band Sixpence None the Richer appeared there.
The Art Gallery in Powhatan Point is scheduling adult and children's classes over the next several months and may add additional monthly programs. As mentioned in a previous article, the Powhatan Point Revitalization Association is avidly looking for developers and programs for its school building.
Other places, too, are inviting artists to help revitalize communities and entertain citizens, and there are obviously other localized venues for artists, audiences and students that space doesn't permit mentioning.
The Appalachian Strategic Plan 2011-2016 by the Appalachian Regional Commission contains several goals of building stronger communities and economies including "strengthen the capacity of the people of Appalachia to compete in the global economy," "promote homegrown solutions," "create sustainable economic development" and "encourage lifelong learning."
Supporting local artists and businesses benefits the community. The key to understanding art is exposure to art. Supporting art in education could foster the creative thinkers and attract technology and design industries of the next decades to this region and keep a strong workforce here.
Philip Cole is optimistic, "I've seen a lot of bright spots. I think it's moving in the right direction."
Kathleen McDermott is guardedly so, "The arts can make a greater impact in small communities. Towns can be more supportive of entrepreneurial and artistic activities, but it does take a collective effort - the towns, tourism and schools. The support requires investment, both public and private, and you need to have art leaders at the planning table."