Art changing lives for the past 60 years

Kate Fisher
Posted 8/5/13

Art changing lives for the past 60 years

By Kate Fisher

Eastern Shore Art Center

The Eastern Shore Art Center was founded by a group of local artists and patrons who recognized the importance of art for full and meaningful community life. …

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Art changing lives for the past 60 years


Art changing lives for the past 60 years

By Kate Fisher

Eastern Shore Art Center

The Eastern Shore Art Center was founded by a group of local artists and patrons who recognized the importance of art for full and meaningful community life. ESAC began as a one-room gallery on the site of the former Pinewood Pottery studio and has grown into a 20,000-square-foot facility that houses six exhibition galleries and four teaching studios. In 2014, ESAC will celebrate 60 years of its mission to promote, teach and nourish the creation and appreciation of the visual arts through exhibitions, educational programs and information resources.

Gallery hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays, however the day begins much earlier for the staff and instructors. Their day begins at 8 a.m. getting the studios ready, checking voice mails and emails before the first students arrive at 8:30. Last year, more than 1,000 adults and children of all ages and abilities received art instruction from a staff of 24 instructors. It is our belief that all people have the capability to express themselves creatively through art.

Each year, the Art Center welcomes more than 12,000 visitors free of charge. ESAC hosts 100 exhibitors at the Grand Festival of Art in October, 160 exhibitors at the March Outdoor Art Show and 33 new exhibits in our galleries. The Center provides artwork for 22 local hotels, medical offices, restaurants and other businesses. The Art Center’s Committee on Public Art raises funds to purchase and place works of art of the highest quality throughout Fairhope by developing an art trail for residents and visitors to enjoy.

The presence of public art makes a strong statement. It educates adults and children about art, provides open access to unique pieces of art and enhances the quality of life for all who pass this way. ESAC hosts approximately 24 private parties and receptions as well as providing facility space for other non-profit organizations for a minimal fee.

We have established a partnership with the Mobile Symphony to bring music to the Eastern Shore for a series of Sunday afternoon concerts, providing a total art experience for everyone. And let us not forget First Friday Art Walk that started with the Art Center many years ago and continues today, incorporating all of downtown Fairhope. It is impossible to calculate the number of people who are impacted each and every day by the art from ESAC. No matter where visitors are from, they always comment on what a wonderful facility ESAC is and how fortunate Fairhope is to have it.

The Center would not be what it is without our volunteers. Each year volunteers donate more than 8,500 hours. Some give three hours a week, some three hours a month and others three hours a year. They are all important and we are grateful to every one of them.

One program that sets the Center apart from other area art organizations is our Community Outreach Program that reaches various populations in our community not being served through our Academy. These include visiting assisted living centers, the Veterans’ Home and adults and youth with physical, mental or emotional disabilities. ESAC travels statewide to reach out to children impacted by natural disasters as well as private on-site instruction for those who have experienced a personal loss or trauma. Often people are unable to verbalize a tragedy, but express themselves through art in an effort to help them with “closure.”

“Squeaky Sneakers” is a summer art/science day camp for at-risk and under-served children from and around Baldwin County. This unique partnership with the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation has received the Gulf Guardian Award twice for its efforts to educate children and youth on the importance of our estuaries and the careful balance of our ecosystem.

“Senior to Senior” links the generations by working with Fairhope High School students and senior living facilities and Shepherd’s Place. Through conversation and interaction of art projects, the generations come together and learn from one another. We see how the students embraced this project bonding with their art partners. Both generations benefit; at times it is hard to see that there are as many as seven decades between them. As a result of this project, students became engaged in other Art Center programs, seeing a need to help their community through art and coming out to help.

ESAC offers art instruction to the Southwest Alabama Regional School for the Deaf and Blind. The Art Center’s Community Outreach Director, along with volunteers, travels statewide teaching workshops reaching teachers and students to keep our circle of impact ever expanding.

ESAC is not city owned or maintained. Unlike many surrounding art facilities, ESAC depends solely on contributions, grants, sponsorships, memberships and fundraising. Along with many other non-profit organizations, ESAC has had to make adjustments to survive these economic times. We have realized a decrease in memberships, funding for “the arts” has been cut and there just aren’t as many grant opportunities as there once were. While trying to keep tuition costs down, expenses are going up. With only four full-time and two part-time staffers, it has worked very hard to keep administrative costs to a minimum. ESAC is proud to say that almost all if its annual budget is spent on its programs.

The Center is a venerable and valued organization that is the epicenter of the arts in Fairhope. Memberships, sponsorships and donations are critical for the Art Center to continue its programs and the impact on the community in the years to come.

ESAC is located at 401 Oak St. in Fairhope. For more information, call 251-928-2228 or visit