The Art of Community
By Sarah West, ACE staff member
In a recent My Voice column (“La Grande Doesn’t Lack Opportunities,” The Observer, August 23, 2017), columnist Mary McCracken made note of several art and cultural organizations in La Grande that function without support from the City or County, and that it’s a shame to let these resources flounder when they have the potential to increase the value of our community on multiple levels. We couldn’t agree more and would like to add another organization to her list: Art Center East!
Art Center East came about in 2015 when two La Grande arts organizations – The Art Center at the Old Library and Arts East – decided to merge. Since then, we’ve grown into our new shoes as La Grande’s predominant multi-disciplinary arts organization. We decided to stay in the same location – the old Carnegie library on Penn Ave – where we’ve made lots of renovations and honed in our focus on art education and advocacy.
As a non-profit with less than three full-time positions, we bring a lot to the community table: Two beautiful gallery spaces where we display an average of twenty unique exhibits each year, offering artists a platform for their work, and community members a chance to learn about and engage with the fine arts. A gift gallery that gives local artists a venue to sell their art. Two classroom spaces (with two more on the way), including a multi-media studio and a ceramics studio, that allow us to offer a wide range of community classes. A movement studio, which provides space for dance, yoga, fitness, and music ensembles to gather and teach, and that fosters valuable partnerships with local businesses and organizations.
We also have a full schedule of free events, including several band and choral performances (each performed by one of ACE’s four community music groups), monthly art gallery openings, the annual Handmade Holidays art fair, Arts for All, and Season’s Faire. We partner with other community events such as the La Grande Farmers Market and the Ladd Marsh Bird Festival, bringing artists and art activities out into the community. In addition to all we do for the residents of Union County, we run a program called Artists in Rural Schools. Since 1977, we’ve worked to fund and coordinate placing art educators in schools throughout ten eastern Oregon counties, providing art education to students who would otherwise go without.
Does that sound like a lot to you? Because it sounds like a lot to us, and we are honored and excited to play this role in our community. We also believe that these efforts create real results. They generate economic growth by providing multiple outlets for artists to gain visibility, sell their work, and earn income from teaching. They also generate community value by increasing and enriching the opportunities local residents have to interact with and create art in its many forms.
Last but not least, we see ourselves as a community hub, where all are welcome to wander in, explore, learn, and share – and we have plans to grow into that role even more in the upcoming years.
To clarify a common confusion about our funding: we get no monetary support from the City of La Grande (save a one-time contribution made two years ago when the City of La Grande Arts Commission transferred stewardship of the annual Arts For All and Season’s Faire events). We are in a City building, but we lease it and pay for all repairs out of our own budget. Our funding comes from four sources: grants, fees (class tuition, gallery sales, facility rentals), memberships and donations. Want to help the arts grow? We invite your feedback, your energy, and your engagement. Come in and say hello!