The last time I was in the Art League of Ocean City, it was a much different place. It wasn’t just smaller, it was a lot smaller, and felt a bit more cramped. Three years ago, however, the league underwent a nearly half-a-million dollar renovation that changed the way it looked. More than that, though, it changed what the group was able to do.
The ALOC always had been a part-educational, part philanthropic organization, but in the place they occupied for the last part of the last century there wasn’t much that could be done in the building. Certainly they held receptions, and the membership was a thriving one that helped the ALOC run programs and classes all year long. But, and this is not meant in any disrespect to the old building, the room just wasn’t up to the quality of the art. In case you haven’t been to the new building, that is no longer the case.
It makes sense that the reimagined ALOC Center for the Arts building is better suited for showing art. It was, in fact, what it was designed to do. The downstairs Thaler Gallery and the upstairs Galleria display the main shows, but there are additional rooms and galleries devoted to featured artists, working studios and resident artist displays. And, although it is open, seven days a week, there is a best time to go, and that is to the after hours events.
In the coming weeks we’ll have more about the classes and other events the ALOC holds at the Center for the Arts, but for today we’re going to take a look at their monthly, “First Friday” open house.
More than just spectacular views
Having recently returned to writing about Ocean City, I was excited to see Jeffery Auxer’s centerpiece glass design. The last I had heard of it, Jeff was waiting to hear when he could announce his commission. He had described what he thought he would be doing, but there wasn’t a firm decision or commitment. It’s funny how we set things aside in our heads sometimes and when we return to them, more time has passed than we had imagined or supposed.
The conversation I had with Jeff must have been in 2012 or so. What is astounding is that, until I typed that last sentence I didn’t think it had been too long since I’d been around the Greater Ocean City Arts scene. It’s something your going to see a lot more of here, because it is another thing that the people of the area do well.
First Friday remains a draw (even on second Friday)
The most recent First Friday event was bumped to the second Friday of the month because of the holiday. Still, the evening found Scott and Stella MacDonald roaming the gallery before the official start time of 5 p.m. The couple hadn’t been to the new gallery in awhile and was thoroughly enjoying not only the art but the surroundings. The whole point of the First Friday is just that, to get people to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with the Center of the Arts as part of a night out.
As the MacDonalds continued their tour I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Kim Morgan, who was setting up the wine for the evening’s event. Kim conducted me around the artist’s studios and talked to me about the ALOC programs, including the Empty Bowl Project an initiative that supports Diakonia and also gives people and introduction to making pottery.
Like all of the volunteers and board members I came across, Kim was emphatic about the great things going on at the Center of the Arts. The First Friday events can be very busy or relatively quiet depending upon everything from the weather to the competing events in town. But, as a night out goes, it is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
Next month, as part of the Febrewary beer event, the League plans to serve local beer to the people who come to the opening reception. Like the Center for the Arts, beer has a new face and is attracting attention as a culinary experience worth of consideration. But whether you are a beer person or a wine person or a water person, the monthly experience is undeniable.
For Nancy Fortney and Hilda Plisco, who help keep things flowing smoothly throughout the month, the First Friday events are the culmination of a month’s worth of planning and organization. They often go off without a hitch. The excitement comes from having (or maybe getting) to throw a party every month. The upside is everyone gets to see new friends and visit with old ones while enjoying art. The downside is each time the bar moves a little bit higher and the volunteers and board members as well as the paid staff, consistently works to keep the monthly event fresh.
So far, they’ve done an excellent job. As we begin the darkest days of 2016 with an eye on the coming spring, cultural outlets like this are necessary to help us fight off cabin fever and remember that there is always beauty if you’re willing to look.