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Center for the Arts in operation, expects busy year

(Feb. 15, 2013) With the new Ocean City Center for the Arts now up and running, and a plethora of programs already planned for the remainder of the year, the Art League of Ocean City told City Council this week that it expects to rapidly branch out into a number of new demographics.

At Tuesday afternoon’s session, center Executive Director Rina Thaler and the league’s board expressed a great deal of gratitude and relief that the long-awaited reconstruction of the organization’s former uptown headquarters into a larger, multi-use arts center, was complete.

Although a formal opening isn’t scheduled until March 1, most of the building is already occupied and in-use.

“Many people have come together to make this dream a reality, and the project has become a testament to how government and private citizens can work together for the good of the community,” Thaler said.

In December, it was announced that Thaler, a long time member and Art League president for the past five years, would become the organization’s first paid staff member, as the executive director of the facility that the league had tried for so long to build.

Since 1984, the ALOC had operated out of the west end of the city-owned Little Salisbury community park on 94th Street, in a building that Thaler described as a “pool house.” That structure was demolished earlier this year to make room for the new facility.

With that in mind, the new center incorporates everything the league has wanted to do over the past 28 years, but hasn’t been able to. Foremost – and most obvious once one walks into the building – is the two-story gallery space, open through the second floor with a balcony running the perimeter.

Possibly an even bigger step is the incorporation of individual studios into the building. Four small rooms, each with their own sink, track lighting, and large, north-facing window, will be available for annual rent by local artists. There is also a dedicated retail space for the artists to sell their work.

The hope is that having something always going on at the center, which will be open seven days per week, year-round, will attract a steady stream of casual visitors, especially when the league holds its reception on the first Friday of every month.

“Now that the building includes artist studio spaces, it’s more of a destination. We’re hoping to make those ‘First Fridays’ something we can build and promote as an amenity for Ocean City,” Thaler said.

The league will also be furthering its partnership with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in putting on summer camps and events for kids. The PNC Foundation recently announced a $25,000 grant to the league for children’s programming.

Thaler also has plans to expand the center outside of the league’s usual demographic, with showcases for young artists, as well as exhibits that branch out into more modern forms, such as mixed media and fiber arts, as well as theater collaborations.

“A lot of people come to Ocean City and grow up here, and then once they graduate, they have nothing to engage them in town post-school,” Thaler said.

The deal to build the new Center for the Arts was brokered last year, when the town agreed to fund $600,000 of the projected $800,000 construction, with the ALOC raising the remaining $200,000. The state later agreed to contribute a further $200,000, and Worcester County will be providing a $20,000 booster each year for the next five years. The league is also still selling commemorative brick pavers, which will be installed on the center’s walkway.

Although its majority financial stake means that the city is actually the owner of the building, it has granted the league a 50-year lease on the property with an annual rent of $1.

At the city’s public input session for strategic planning earlier this month, Thaler said she “was pleased to see how many people noted the construction of the art league building as one of the most notable accomplishments for the town over the past year.”

“We’ve had a lot of former art league members who had given up on there ever being a new building,” Thaler said.

Briefly before the new facility was completed, Thaler uncovered records indicating that 2013 would be the Art League of Ocean City’s official 50th anniversary. The league was formally founded in 1963 in the building that is now City Hall, but which was previously a school before it was abandoned following the storm of 1962. Before being renovated into what is now the town’s government headquarters, the building was used by the league.

Thaler also thanked the city not only for its financial backing, but the in-kind help offered by its employees, particularly City Engineer Terry McGean, Public Works Director Hal Adkins and Deputy Public Works Director Dick Malone.

For more information and event listings, visit www.artleagueofoceancity.org.

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