Oglebay Institute’s Arts Programs Help Contribute to Ohio Valley’s Quality of Life

By LINDA COMINS

Staff Writer

WHEELING — Cultural collaborations are good for the soul of the artist and of the audience.

“The role of the arts is critical. It always has been,” said Danielle McCracken, president of Oglebay Institute in Wheeling. “Creativity is essential when you think of how the world is moving and technology is changing and for the job market in the future. Creativity is a skill that is going to be absolutely essential for these jobs that haven’t even been created.”

Locally, Oglebay Institute’s offerings “contribute greatly to the quality of life here in the Ohio Valley and always have. We provide opportunities for people to connect and to continue learning no matter where they are in their lives,” she said.

Coinciding with events staged at Artworks Around Town, SMART Centre Market and other venues in Wheeling, the institute now presents First Friday activities at Towngate Theatre.

First Friday “is a great package. We are seeing increased participation in our Towngate Theatre programming, both main stage productions and just visitors. We created a gallery space downstairs,” McCracken said. “We wanted to engage people on a more regular basis. It’s a great way to get people in the door. We have some type of film typically and usually followed by a performance at the end of the evening.”

The First Friday initiative “makes people more aware of the many different ways that people can engage in the arts. It’s an important part of the revitalization effort in downtown Wheeling,” she said.

In addition, McCracken and Rick Morgan, director of OI’s Stifel Fine Arts Center, participate in meetings organized by Wheeling Heritage to examine the role of the arts in the revitalization of downtown Wheeling.

McCracken also serves on the Wheeling Arts Commission. She said, “It’s important to have a seat at the table to talk about the good work we’re doing and how to promote the arts.”

Tied to that philosophy, an exhibition presented at Stifel last fall featured artists from Penn Avenue, an area of Pittsburgh that was struggling. “The arts and culture really played a key role in the redevelopment there. We wanted to have an exhibit that was really relevant to what we’re doing here. It also brought a lot of new people into the Stifel facility,” she said.

The arts are valuable “not only for quality of life, but also attracting businesses and investments in the community,” she said. “A community that has a rich offering in the arts is attractive.”

A vibrant arts community also draws cultural travelers who seek cultural and arts experiences. “They actually stay longer and spend more money while they’re here,” she said.

Regarding other aspects of the organization’s operation, McCracken said, “Partnerships are very important to Oglebay Institute. We also have some wonderful partnerships with local colleges and universities.”

In a new partnership, its performing arts department is helping Wheeling Jesuit University stage two productions during the 2017-18 academic year. Tim Thompson, director of performing arts, and Cheryl Pompeo, director of the School of Dance, are teaching courses in acting and dance, respectively, at WJU this spring.

Oglebay Institute maintains a partnership with WJU and the Ohio County Public Library to present the Wheeling Film Society’s cinema season. The institute also has a relationship with Bethany College.

A new children’s reading area has been established at OI’s Schrader Environmental Education Center in Oglebay Park. “They (Schrader staff members) have a newly developed schedule of programs that they are bringing into area libraries and hoping to bring into senior centers, which is fabulous,” she said.

The institute works with various agencies such as the Augusta Levy Learning Center, Crittenton Services, Russell Nesbitt Services and the Anchor after-school program at Madison Elementary School in Wheeling. “We can make our programs available to individuals who might not always have access to what we do,” McCracken said.

The arts leader said, “Another way that I see the arts as important is our role in being a partner in education.”

Oglebay Institute has launched two new pilot programs, the Rural Arts Collaborative and Midnight Radio, in area schools. The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation has awarded funding for both projects.

The Rural Arts Collaborative “allows us to take artists into the schools throughout the region for a year-long residency. It’s an opportunity to expand our reach,” McCracken said.

For the program’s first year, Oglebay Institute artists are working with students at Wheeling Country Day School and Magnolia High School in New Martinsville and developing projects that will be public art displays. Country Day pupils will create a mural in a new space for Grow Ohio Valley, while Magnolia students will make a video installation at the Wetzel County Museum.

“Next year, we’ll be able to do seven residencies. We’re still identifying all the partner schools. We’re really excited about the expansion of that initiative,” she said.

For Midnight Radio, the institute is partnering with sixth-grade teachers at Triadelphia Middle School in Wheeling to develop a radio show based on their curriculum, she said. Students in social studies classes will research various aspects of World War II and write a script for their show.

“It’s a powerful way for kids to engage in what they’re learning in school, in a different way,” McCracken said. “Different kids learn differently. We’re really very excited about that.”

Oglebay Institute offers several opportunities throughout the year for area artists to show their work, either at Stifel Center or Towngate Theatre. For example, the “Crosscurrents” exhibition at Stifel features work by regional artists of all ages.

The annual Regional Student Art Exhibition at Stifel “allows us to celebrate these students and their talents,” McCracken said. In addition, students can use Stifel’s framing and matting studio to present their work in a professional way.

West Liberty and West Virginia universities provide scholarships as awards to some of the art exhibition’s entrants. The student show “also brings a lot of new faces –parents and friends — into the Stifel Fine Arts Center. Hopefully, they come back on a regular basis,” she said.

Area artists have a platform to sell their creations at the holiday art show, held jointly at the Stifel and Schrader centers, and at the artists’ market staged during Oglebayfest. The Samara Shop at Schrader Center “features products that were created by local artists as well as artisans from throughout the state,” McCracken said.

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