A Look Inside the Georgetown Art Center
Many locals know that the building at 816 S. Main Street, where the Georgetown Art Center currently resides, used to be Fire Station One in the 1990s. But, way back in the day (think 1892), when Georgetown had a population of 479 people, the building actually housed a prison. If you look closely at the back wall of the Art Center’s studio behind the art supply cabinets, you can see doodles left behind by the inmates. Some doodles are just names and dates, while others get a little more “creative.”
The folks at the Georgetown Art Works, the nonprofit group that runs the Art Center, found this little piece of history when they were rehabbing the building. They didn’t want to cover it up, but some of the scribbles are a bit risqué, and lots of kids come through the studio to take classes. So the group cleverly decided to install staggered cabinets that allow just some of the intriguing “graffiti wall” to show.
This innovative approach to art, graffiti and otherwise, is what the Georgetown Art Center is all about. The center opened in October of 2013 with the mission to provide folks with memorable and challenging art experiences that, as the center’s website explains, “bring art and people together for enjoyment, discovery, and learning.” The center hosts art exhibits along with corresponding artist talks and receptions—all free to the public. These events offer visitors an opportunity not only to view the pieces but also to speak with the artists and learn about what inspired their creations. The busy center also holds a variety of classes and workshops for all ages as well as Spring Break and Summer Vacation Art Camps for children ages 4 to 16. Many of the classes are taught by local artists who guide students as they work in paints, charcoals, pastels, clay, and a variety of other mediums.
The Art Works group has existed for more than 10 years. The group used to hold events at the Georgetown Public Library. Jane Estes, former Art Works Board President, explains the group’s evolution. “The downtown square was not as busy or vibrant as it could be,” she says. “This was before concerts happened on the square or the wineries were here. There were quite a few empty buildings, in fact.”
Some determined locals, including Larry McCormick and Fred Bolgen (both now deceased) and Judy Ommen (who has since moved to Utah), travelled to towns all over Texas and beyond to find out what made some downtowns thrive more than others. Jane says the answer they kept getting was that “artists, art-related businesses, and art tourism made a city more vibrant and built community for the citizens, as well as offering opportunities for artists and tourists.”
So the group created the first Art Hop. The month-long event is now in its 10th year and runs from late September to late October. The Art Hop is an independent, juried competition that celebrates artists from all over Texas. Works are hung in businesses around the square. The categories are 2D Abstract, 2D Representational, 3D, Photography, and Printmaking. Winners receive prizes worth a total of $8,000. Gift certificates to Precision Camera, TechShop, and Jerry’s Artarama are among the awards. The popular event draws people to the square, where they often patronize local businesses while enjoying and buying art. The birth of the Art Hop was a good step toward bringing more art tourism to downtown Georgetown. Encouraged, Art Works decided to seek a permanent home for events. But coming up with capital to actually buy a building was a huge challenge.
Enter Eric Lashley. Eric, director of the Georgetown Public Library and Art Works’ liaison to the city, was an early advocate for the Art Center project. When the fire trucks moved out of old Fire Station One, he saw an opening where the Art Center could thrive. “Eric, our board, and supportive community members went before the city council with our plan,” Jane says. “He had worked out a way to pay for the renovations of the fire station. It was one of the few times the council has voted unanimously for something!”
“My mother and sister are professional artists and members of a gallery in Roanoke, Virginia,” Eric explains. “Having been exposed to so much art and getting to know many artists, I really have an appreciation for art. I think most artists tend to be very independent individuals who care about their communities but often have a hard time organizing. My strength is that I’m good at bringing people together around a common idea and then getting them to work towards shared goals.”
The Art Center depends on help from volunteers, member dues, grants, and donations to keep the doors open. The city of Georgetown is very supportive of the Art Works group and allows them to use the building rent free. The group has to follow certain rules and pay the utilities. Otherwise, the city gives them “complete autonomy to do whatever we want as far as the art exhibits themselves . . . and some of them can be pretty controversial,” says current Art Works board president Mari Ramirez.
Mari, who comes from a family full of artists and calls herself an “art appreciator,” owns a CPA firm and used to do the books for Art Works. She eventually became the group’s treasurer and then president. She likes that there is a good mix of artists and non-artists on the board. “Our passion for art is our common thread,” says Mari.
More than 100 artists are exhibited at the Art Center every year. Featured artists come from near and far to share their work. This year, the center has hosted exhibits by Peruvian artists Richard Peralta and Edwin Quispecuro and works by James Tisdale and Hans Bauer. A modern landscape imagery show with Austin painters Rebecca Bennett, Shawn Camp, and Karen Manness and works by National Geographic photographer Ralph Lee Hopkins will round out the year.
The Georgetown Art Center plays a vital role in promoting artists from Texas and beyond and supporting the fast-growing local art scene. Art enthusiasts from all over the area, whether they’re little ones enjoying their very first art class or long-time residents who are old enough to remember the Georgetown Art Center building’s colorful history, are reaping the rewards.
Visit www.georgetownartcentertx.org or www.facebook.com/GeorgetownArtWorks for information on exhibits past, present, and future and for details about camps, classes, and competitions. The Georgetown Art Center is currently accepting artists’ exhibit proposals for their 2018 season.
The Georgetown Art Center
816 S. Main St in Georgetown
Sunday: 1 to 5 PM
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 AM to 6 PM