Art centre at risk of closing doors

Needs supporters to maintain River Road presence

Story and photos by Casey Lessard

The Grand Bend Art Centre could give up the lease on its River Road space if a fundraising effort fails to generate enough interest before October. Artists (including this reporter) use the space to teach art workshops to community members. Artist Teresa Marie, who launched the centre last summer, hopes to sell enough books of coupons valid year-round at local businesses ($40 each, available at the River Road Gallery and elsewhere locally) to pay the rent and secure programming for the fall.
“We have to let Milford know by October whether we’re going to keep this facility as an art centre,” Teresa Marie says. “If we can sell 150 coupon books before the fall, we can probably pull ourselves out of this. Then in April we’ll do the coupon book again with more coupons and have a fresher book for the new season.
“I’m looking for people who want to support the art centre, and this is our gift back to them and our gift to the community to keep the money spent in the community.”
The centre has $15,000 in annual expenses, and rentals and workshops do not cover the cost completely. Even with donations from Rotary and some private donors, the centre has not been able to cover costs.
“We fell short of our budget last year. Milford Purdy, who has been very forgiving, has let us continue to have the place and we’re paying him on a catch-up basis right now.
“As a painter, I was trying to get all of the painters in town together to form groups to use the art centre. For the short term summer season, I wanted it to be available for visiting artists who would stay for the weekend, take some workshops, meet some artists, spend some money in town, and get to know our community through the art.”
Regardless of whether it has a permanent physical space, Teresa Marie says the centre will continue to operate.
“If we can’t come up with the funds to keep that location, I will have to farm out the workshops elsewhere. I will continue to do this on a smaller scale, but I would like to see it continue here.”
Judy Steeper of Corbett hopes the space can maintain the status quo.
“I love the classes,” Steeper says. “They’re Grand Bend’s best kept secret. We’re really fortunate to have it because it’s a treasure. It’s great, especially for me. I work as a wedding planner and designer, and this helps me keep my creativity up.
“It’s handy and it’s close to home. It’s adding tourism and it’s a plus all around.”
Marie Hughes of Bayfield agrees.
“I hope it keeps on going,” says Hughes, who has taken several classes at the centre. “I’ve been hoping to do this for years and years. It’s an opportunity to do some learning close at hand without driving to the big city.”
Hughes notes that the centre is special because students of all abilities are welcome.
“It’s suitable for people who have never picked up a brush. I like that everyone in the class is at different stages in their ability.”
That’s what attracted Rosemary Stevens of London to the Teresa Marie’s painting workshop.
“I always wanted to find out if I could paint,” Stevens says. “I just retired in January and I established a bucket list of things to do that I never had time to do. My mother painted for pleasure and I always admired her work. I thought I’d like to try that and come down and take a class.”
How has the experience been?
“It was very scary when I first started, but now I’m developing some self-confidence. It shows you that you just have to try.”
“People don’t always want to buy things,” says Teresa Marie, “but they want to do things. Grand Bend needs to offer that so people can stay active physically and mentally.
“I started to paint when I was 28 years old and I learned to paint from Barry Richman, David Bannister, and Klaus Verboom. Through them, the art gallery developed. Good things happen when good people get together. Out of that has grown a second gallery. I was taught by other people hands-on, and I want to share that with other people.”
For Rosemary Stevens, supporting the art centre is important for Grand Bend, not only for the students but also for the greater community.
“I think it’s an expression of people in the community and their appreciation for where they are. It’s very important.”

To show your support, buy a coupon book ($40 at River Road Gallery and elsewhere) or sign up for a class.
To find out more, call 519-872-7824.