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The Arts Alliance marks 10 years and looks toward the future

02/13/2018 11:13AM ● Published by J. Chambless

A ribbon cutting was set up because the organization never had one a decade ago.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

Judy Petersen, who took over last April as executive director of the Oxford Arts Alliance, can sense the energy building in downtown Oxford. But she's especially hopeful when new visitors tell her, “This town is really changing, this is really great,” Petersen said last week.

The Arts Alliance was a cornerstone of the revitalization of downtown Oxford, but never had a formal ribbon cutting, so at the organization's 10-year celebration on Feb. 9, they made up for that with a dedication and party.

Petersen, who is an artist in her own right, has lived in East Nottingham Township for about 15 years. She remembers when Oxford didn't have the momentum it is enjoying today. “I see a lot of collaboration now between businesses to make the town come back,” she said, adding that a parking garage is a much-needed project for the downtown. “We want to bring more business into town, and we need to have parking to do that.”

The new businesses downtown are stabilizing, thanks to efforts by Oxford Mainstreet and other organizations, she said. With the arts as a draw for businesses and visitors, Petersen said the Arts Alliance needs to bring in “children and families, bring music and art to them. To me, it's more about children than anything. If you bring in children, you have the parents. Upstairs here, we have music and art private lessons for about 150 students a week. We have the Annex now, where we hold classes. Caitlin Daugherty is now our director of art education, and she's going to be building the classes and collaborations. All of our camps will be held at the Annex. We're doing a collaboration with the library to do music camps this summer. We've also hired a special education art teacher to teach children and adults in the spring.

“When we first opened up the Annex, we had local artists showing there,” Petersen said. “We found that, because we need to use the Annex for all our classes, we can't do that now. Here in the gallery, we are scheduled to the middle of 2019 already. In April, we'll have a group of artists who will exhibit at Ware Presbyterian Village. We have a figure drawing class that brings in local artists to learn new techniques, to work with a model, to help them grow as artists.”

The monthly First Friday events are consistent highlights, she said. “Oxford has its First Friday and the Arts Alliance has its Third Friday art openings. First Friday has always been attracting so many people in the community. We love to have children come in – we have Goldfish crackers and lemonade for them. All kinds of people come in for First Fridays.”

In ways big and small, the Arts Alliance is proving to be a draw for everyone. “There was a group of boys who came in – 10 to 12 years old – looked around, talked with one of our volunteers who showed them around. They left, and about half an hour later, one of the boys came back and said, 'Do you mind if I come in and look around? My friends aren't that interested in art, but I am,'” Petersen said, laughing. “He has come back for every First Friday to look at what we have.”

In June, art by school students will be shown in the main gallery, and in July, children from the Lighthouse Youth Center will exhibit the results of art projects that are being done in conjunction with the Arts Alliance.

Goals for the Arts Alliance in the short term are finding an administrative assistant to free Petersen up to pursue more outreach and less office work. There are currently four people to handle everything. “And we'd love to get into a bigger space where we have one campus and grow more,” she said. “To have everything in one place – to be able to have a culinary institute, to do clay, to be able to have one big gallery and a smaller gallery for emerging artists, to be able to have more classrooms for individuals and groups, to start with computers that are a big part of art today.”

The Arts Alliance works with a lean team – a staff of four plus outside instructors – and has stabilized its finances. “Last year we came in under budget, which was really great,” Petersen said. “That's the first time in a long time. Our Garden Party fundraiser has always been held in the last few years outside of Oxford. We're bringing it back this year. It's going to be held at Wayvine Vineyard in Nottingham. We're going back to having a table decorating contest, back to its roots,” Peterson said. “And I'm working on grants as well. It's easy to get grants for music and education for low-income communities. It's not easy to get grants for general operating expenses, but we need to keep our doors open. That's the basis of it. To keep our costs down, to involve the whole community, so that everybody can benefit, we can't have high prices. But because we can't have high prices, we do work on a limited budget. We have to focus our fundraising on operating expenses.

“But there are so many exciting things going on. This is really an exciting time,” she said, smiling.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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