WHEELING - The Ohio Valley is experiencing an uptick of interest in the arts.
In the past year, a new art gallery opened in St. Clairsville inside Hays Landscape Architecture on Main Street. Local artists painted colorful images from nursery rhymes on the pillars supporting the Interstate 70 bridge through downtown Wheeling. A cooperative of artists renovated a Martins Ferry home to be used to promote the arts in the community and provide an artist-in-residence program, with the goal of bringing artists from around the country and world to the Ohio River city.
While these individual efforts blossom throughout the region, several larger groups continue to nurture and grow the arts. Oglebay Institute, the Strand Theatre Preservation Society and ArtsLink Inc. are three such organizations. Oglebay Institute is the oldest of the three, while the other two have existed for a little more than 10 years.
Sue Petit portrays the Fairy Godmother and reads the story of “Cinderella” to pint-sized tea party patrons at a 2011 event to benefit the Strand Theatre in Moundsville.
"Oglebay Institute has been an important part of the Ohio Valley community for nearly 83 years. I feel that our reputation is solid and the community perceives us as critical to the cultural quality of life," said Kathleen McDermott, Oglebay Institute president.
Oglebay Institute was formed in 1930 to "contribute to the joy of living" for local residents by developing and implementing cultural, educational and recreational programming in Oglebay Park, which had been acquired recently by the city of Wheeling. The institute now also operates outside the scope of the park; three of its five buildings - the Schrader Environmental Education Center, the Mansion Museum and the Glass Museum - are located within its limits, while the Stifel Fine Arts Center and Towngate Theatre are in other parts of the city.
In addition, the institute goes into the schools and offers programming to local public and private school students in everything from local natural habitats to art appreciation to Appalachian dance. The in-school programming ensures children of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to the arts.
"While our core programs will always center around visual arts, theater, nature, history and dance, it is our mission to respond to trends, artist needs, student education and community interests as they pertain to these fields," McDermott said.
New programming initiatives include print making, raku pottery, digital media arts, archery, geocaching, smaller venue performance arts, film society and pre-professional dance, she added.
In New Martinsville, ArtsLink was founded in 2001 with the mission of "fostering and sustaining the rich artistic resources that are essential to the communities we serve and making the arts accessible to all." The organization serves Wetzel, Tyler and Monroe counties.
The group presents an annual concert series, providing a stage and audiences for cutting-edge talent in a variety of genres. Guitarist Ernie Hawkins will perform at The Wells Inn in Sisterville on March 10 and Doc Gibbs & New World Review will perform at the Lincoln Theater in New Martinsville on April 19. A special concert is on tap at the theater on June 15 in honor of Norbert Ebert and The Ebert Brothers Show, featuring famed bluegrass group The Seldom Scene as well as the Battle Weary Band and the Tharp Brothers.
"As a longtime member of the board, I have always had a positive response from patrons who attend our events," said Eric Vincent, ArtsLink president. "They have enjoyed the variety and diversity of performances and art we have presented to them."
ArtsLink also sponsors a free Arts in the Park festival in New Martinsville's Bruce Park on Independence Day.
Like Oglebay Institute, ArtsLink is dedicated to educating local youth in the performing arts.
"The students from our area schools have enjoyed the special performances and teaching moments they received from the performers," Vincent said.
Located between Wheeling and New Martinsville, the Strand Theatre Preservation Society in Moundsville is a group formed in 2000 with the purpose of restoring the historic Strand Theatre and also "providing Moundsville and the surrounding areas with a facility to house all expressions of the arts," according to the group's website. Its slogan is: "Restore the Strand & Build the Arts."
The theater opened in 1920 and operated regularly until 1968, then reopened in 1976. It continued to show films until closing in 1996. The preservation group began raising money in 2000 and launched a painstaking renovation project in several phases.
So far, it has raised $1.3 million and needs about $500,000 to complete the process, said Tiffany Turner, society vice president.
The theater was ready to open to the public in August 2011. A grand reopening took place last May with a showing of "Fool's Parade," the 1971 Jimmy Stewart picture based on Moundsville native David Grubb's novel. Filming took place in Moundsville and at the former West Virginia Penitentiary.
The Strand Theatre now hosts such events as film festivals, dance classes, theater productions and concert series. During the community event that welcomed the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall in August, for example, the Strand showed Vietnam-era films such as "Apocalypse Now" and "Good Morning, Vietnam."
Turner added the Strand has recently opened a fully functioning cafe and the group is currently "working very hard to make the 90-plus-year-old theater more handicap accessible."
A major focus of the society is bringing the arts to local children, she said.
"I feel that the Strand Theatre tries to offer a variety of programming to the community. One of our main focuses is the children of our county," Turner said. "We try to provide the schools with quality presentations of art, in various forms, and take these presentations directly to the schools."