It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since Robert Gross, Celia Diaz and a group of devoted artists first hung art in the Woman’s Club of Wilton Manors! We have experienced a slew of successful art shows over these four years and we have made so many new friends along the way that share the joy of art! The big question now has become, “How can we keep that going?”
In an effort to address sustainability for the gallery, I sought advice from a successful local businessman, Nick Berry. He provided us with a matching grant in January this year which allowed us to raise the $400 we needed to obtain 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. In the course of our meeting that December day, he asked if we had ever thought about using the Woman’s Club as the City’s “official” Visitor’s Center. He spoke of a physical place where visitor’s could go to and receive information about Wilton Manors’ businesses, parks and events. He went on to offer ideas about how to generate revenue that would keep the Visitor’s Center going over time. I thought Nick’s idea was a stroke of genius! What could be more warm and welcoming than a neighborhood art gallery in a historic mid-century modern building located in the heart of the arts and entertainment district of the City?
I wasted no time reaching out to the City Manager, Leigh Ann Henderson. If the City was interested in such a venture, there was hope the gallery could go on! We were in need of a way to expand our hours of operation to maximize exposure for the artists and to fully participate as a small business, albeit a nonprofit organization. I was so grateful when Ms. Henderson embraced the idea and stated that she would inform her department heads and seek their support as well. It seemed we were on our way!
And, so, it is that I write this blog post to share with you what comes next.
Each year since 2011 when ownership of the building was transferred to the City of Wilton Manors, the Leisure Services Department has included a small amount of money in their budget for improvements to the building. The first couple of years, that money was spent to repair the roof and air conditioning system, purchase hurricane shutters and bring the building into compliance with current fire code and ADA requirements. Last year, they upgraded the electrical system which allowed for the installation of signage and track lighting for the gallery. THIS was a significant achievement for the gallery and created an environment of confidence for the many volunteers involved in this project. The City had demonstrated that they were intent on working with artists in a meaningful way.
Art Gallery 21 will be “dark” this summer, providing the City with the time needed for the next capital improvements project at the Woman’s Club … the redesign of the kitchen and storage areas. The groups that use the building on a regular basis, like the yoga classes and the Depression Era Glass Club as well as the gallery, are all in need of adequate storage. The kitchen itself, while minimally functional, is outdated and unappealing to building rental prospects. It’s been an honor that City staff have included the gallery in conversations and planning sessions since the idea for the Visitor’s Center emerged. They are as enthusiastic and excited as we are!
We are looking towards a late September/early October grand opening of the Visitor’s Center. While construction is in progress, we will be working to establish a business plan, identify potential volunteer opportunities and to develop a network of businesses and cultural organizations that could benefit from participation in the Visitor’s Center. It is truly a “work in progress” and I know I speak for all the artists when I say, “Thank You to the City for all the support!” If what we do here is successful, Art Gallery 21 will be able to increase its hours of operation and add economic and cultural value to the community in new ways. We will be able to share the joy of art with visitors AND residents and provide additional cultural opportunities to all.
Anyone interested in being a part of the development process for the “official” Wilton Manors Visitor’s Center, contact us! We are open to ideas and suggestions that will lead to success! Thanks for another great season of art and artists!