Arts Place’s Events, Art Make It A Top Attraction

Arts Place Auglaize-Mercer Center Director Heather Dowell highlights the exhibits and programs at the center that make it a hub of downtown St. Marys.
Managing Editor

Already the director at Arts Place Auglaize-Mercer Center for two years, Heather Dowell shared with Rotarians the different activities and popularity the center has garnered since she took over. 

The center, one of three such Arts Place locations and nested at 207 E. Spring St., offers dozens of programs and attracts thousands of interested people every year. 

Dowell said Arts Place has had artists who are featured at the New York Met or who are members of the International Watercolor Society who travel the country with their artwork as well as artists who have been displayed in Chicago and some of the greatest galleries around. 

“Pretty impressive for a small farming community,” she added. “We do a lot of outreach through the community, which is something that I’ve worked really hard to accomplish over the last few years.”

In order to accomplish that outreach, Dowell, a Celina native, volunteers at a number of activities, such as the Celina farmers’ market, artwork volunteer at The Learning Center, holds artwork classes over the summer and hosts karaoke for the St. Marys Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, among other activities. 

With new artwork being brought into the center almost weekly, the center is busy with a number of events with more than 3,000 guests annually. 

Events draw many of those guests, including Art and Fashion, held at Wright State University — Lake Campus, and featured Bette Sherman from Cincinnati who has the largest collection of vintage women’s clothing. 

Sherman had four local models show off clothing from the 1900s all the way through the 1970s.

The center also holds its annual and No. 1 fundraiser in the quarter auction of hundreds of items featuring dozens of local vendors. 

“Everything that we do at Arts Places is all about keeping everything local,” she added.

This year’s quarter auction will be held Nov. 5 at the USWA Local 200 Union Hall, 227 E. South St. The cost is $5 to get into the event and items to win are as little as a quarter. 

Arts Place held its 10th annual beer tasting event last Friday, hosted by fellow Rotarian Jeff Squire, with more than a dozen holiday-themed craft beers. 

An upcoming event, the Children’s Literature Festival, will be incorporating an adult literacy program too. Dowell said the center wanted to expand on what has already been a successful program offered last year. She said Arts Place will be partnering with the Lake Campus’ college of education. 

The program will be from 9 a.m. to noon April 18. Dowell said there will be several local authors to talk about their books and their books will also be available for sale. She added authors will also read their stories to kids and the Lake Campus will also have its student teachers offer classes and workshops for kids. 

Aside from events, Arts Place offers a variety of classes in 13 communities. 

The class list for each year is released in May and runs from June to August with all of the fundraising for classes being turned in by the end of February. The classes are not determined until the center knows how much it has raised for that year. 

As a part of that fundraising, one of the most popular programs — Arts in the Parks — has a cost of $5 per class with $30 per student as the maximum, regardless of the number of classes taken. 

Dowell added the center has a scholarship program which allows children to attend classes for free if they meet requirements.  

“That’s entirely through the sponsorship from all of our generous donors,” Dowell said. “Thousands of kids that go through this program and we don’t want any child to not able to attend these classes. It is the No. 1 program that we get the most feedback and the most appreciation for it. 

“These classes fill up quickly. Usually, we can have between 20 and 25 students in a class.”

The center hosts ArtsFest during SummerFest with more than $1,500 in prizes going out. To enter, artists have to be from Auglaize or Mercer county or any county that touches those two.

The Lake Area Arts Group exhibit will take place Feb. 28, followed by Laura Barnhorst Corle, a watercolor artist from Findlay, St. Marian Debby Gregory and Glowing Glass Designs exhibit on May 22. 

Dowell concluded her speech by saying that Arts Place is not just for kids, but it is a place where it can nurture the creative spirit in the community and is 100% open to suggestions.

“If there’s something that you would like to learn about, just tell me and I will find somebody who can teach that,” she added.