Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oil City Arts Effort Moving Forward At Swift Pace

from The Derrick:

Efforts to help revitalize Oil City by showcasing the arts are bearing fruit and there's more to come, according to city arts coordinator Joann Wheeler.

Wheeler spoke Friday at a meeting of the committee overseeing the four-year-old campaign.

"We're moving right along. I'm pleased," said Wheeler prior to presenting a brief update of the arts revitalization program.

To date, 22 artists have rented studio space in the National Transit Building and its adjacent Annex, both on Seneca Street. Five vacant studios remain. That is nearly double the number of artists just 10 months ago. At least three more artists are considering leasing space, said Wheeler.

A next step, said the arts coordinator, is to establish a retail art shop and exhibit area in the vacant Annex basement for artist tenants. The project would increase "traffic and visibility" within the arts community, said Wheeler, and provide a place for local artists to sell their work on consignment.

That concept, said Libby Williams, chairman of the Oil City Arts Council, was one of the original plans in the move to create an artists' center in the city.

"It was to be a co-operative...but everyone is too busy to run it," Wheeler told the committee. "So our idea is to hire someone part-time."

The followup has been to ask the Oil City Civic Center, owner of the National Transit complex, to hire an individual with retail experience to design and manage the co-op. The salary, she said, would be subsidized by money from the national stimulus package. Several months into the project, said Wheeler, the co-op would begin to pay rent to the Civic Center.

Artists now have the National Transit Gallery in the main building to showcase their wares, said Wheeler, and the addition of a co-op business would not unfairly compete.

"Successful art towns have a range of galleries and shops where people can browse," Wheeler wrote to the Civic Center. "All survive and all feed off one another, and towns which develop a gallery quarter become destinations - our goal."

Lots of interest

There is "a ton of interest out there" in classes and studios within the Transit complex, said George Cooley, a committee member and artist. That was shown, he said, during the city's recent Oil Region Indie Art Festival that featured artists working at potters' wheels in the front quarters of the Annex.

Similar interest in working out some type of cooperative effort has also come from musicians, said committee member Jerome Wincek.

"We have had a huge outpouring of local and regional (musical) talent and we need a way to network, an umbrella to promote and coordinate where these groups can perform here," he said. "...We need to start showing off what we have in an organized way."

Wincek said he wants to develop a system that offers bookings, promotional materials and more that will broaden the musicians' role in the arts revitalization work.

On another front, the arts group is working with the Northwest Planning Commission to use $10,000 to develop a Route 8 arts corridor that includes artist venues in Franklin, Oil City and Titusville. The funds will be earmarked for the compilation of a database, development of a brand and creation of a Web site.

"This is very preliminary at this point," said Wheeler. "We want to duplicate the Route 6 arts corridor that identifies and promotes artists along that route."

In a unique promotional event, the National Transit studio artists are making an "art car" for the Oil Heritage Festival parade on July 25. The vehicle, said Cooley, is being painted and embellished as "an effort to present ourselves to the community."

The National Transit artists' community has published a pledge pamphlet to draw financial contributions from area residents. Donors can help preserve and maintain the art center by adopting a studio, classroom or performance space.

Major donors to date are Carol Boyle and Chuck Stubler. All contributions, said Wheeler, help fund "a growing and successful art community in Oil City."

Additional information is available by contacting Wheeler at 676-5303.

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