ACE Empty Gallery Fiber art

Art Center East displays fiber art pieces from local artists until March. The artwork's theme is farmers markets and there is a voting jar for the best piece, which will be featured in the upcoming La Grande Farmers Market posters. 

LA GRANDE — As Art Center East prepares for its 2020 season, the gallery and community center reflected on its 2019. With new projects, ACE community outreach coordinator Sarah West said last year was an absolute success. 

The La Grande art center reported in 2019 it had around 8,000 visitors total for its events, exhibits and general foot traffic. ACE hosted more than 425 artists through these exhibits and offered 320 classes.

“We are a doorstep for the community,” West said. “We often get visitors considering a move to the area who want to know more about the arts and culture scene and everything else.”

The types of classes the center offers vary from painting and ceramics and music lessons in voice and several instruments to a wintertime course in wreath making. The gallery displays art created locally and across the globe, and the center is involved in community groups, funding artistic organizations such as the Grande Ronde Community Choir. 

A selection of the classes are geared toward young students in the area. West said having these programs for the youth in the community is important in personal development, especially when they start at a young age. 

“The arts and creative experiences are incredible for developing minds,” West said. “Arts is something that has been proven to increase learning capacity and creativity, which in turn can make you a smarter person.” 

While there is youth programming on-site at the center at 1006 Penn Ave., the center also participates in the Artists in Rural Schools program, funding and offering opportunities in local schools for students to develop their creativity and skills. West said the classes at the center are geared toward early education age range (3-6 years old) as it is an age group AIRS does not reach. 

“We facilitate community connections through our partnerships and our programming, building understanding, growth and resilience,” West said. “We aren’t just one thing, or a static set of people. We are an ever-changing, ever-growing network of efforts, aspirations, challenges, possibilities, perspectives, celebrations, skills and plenty of the nitty-gritty work that makes stuff happen.”

Amanda Welch, a local mother of four, teaches an art class for children ages 2-6 and an art lab for ages 6-12 where she introduces students to various types of art and creative processes. She has been teaching these classes for three years as a way to bring art to children at an early age. 

“It not only helps their creativity, but also their problem solving and their confidence,” Welch said. “It is not just about making art, it benefits their whole thought process and how they go through life.”

The programs and events are possible through volunteer work. The center has 87 individuals who volunteer, and in 2019 their time totaled more than 1,000 hours. The center, which is always looking for more volunteers, has a weekly volunteer drop-in day. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, anyone is welcome to take on available projects. Volunteers have the option of earning discounts on classes or gift shop items.

The center in 2018-19 received $87,000 in grants for the free offerings, youth programming, outreach, operational costs and training. Other funding comes from membership fees and private donations and fundraising efforts.

Among new projects and offerings at ACE in 2019 were a 5K color run, fundraising work toward getting a new ADA accessible lift and entrance, an outdoor beer garden at the Handmade Holidays Market and a monthly ACE Writing Project. According to West, the writing project series brings in 50 to 60 people a session. 

“Last year saw a lot of programming developments at Art Center East,” West said, “especially in the form of community partnerships.”

ACE worked during 2019 to developing programming for groups across Union County, including Shelter From the Storm, the Center for Human Development and the Union County District Attorney’s Office Restitution Program. One of the center’s programs involved teaching art to youth who were at risk of criminal behavior, and a selection of their pieces were displayed at Cook Memorial Library, La Grande.

West said some notable artist visits in 2019 were the Oregon Chorale, which performed with ACE’s Grande Ronde Community Choir in a special concert in June; Alseny Yansane, who taught a class in Guinean drumming and led a drum and dance performance at the La Grande Farmers Market in July; and the Crow’s Shadow Collection exhibit in July and August that featured work from artists around the U.S. who have done a residency at the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, near Pendelton.

Having these, and other visiting artists’ works, on display can bring variety and a new point of view. 

“We are working to make galleries community spaces and not some ivory towers,” West said. “At the same time, we are making art an elevated cultural artifact, we are making it accessible to the community.”

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