"It is a beautiful show. Everybody is really impressed and happy about it," said Risa Franco of The Art Center in Dumas. Franco and others have recently finished hanging and arranging the works of 25 artists -- students and instructors -- from the Amarillo Art Institute for an exhibition that will begin Sunday with a reception from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. The works will hang until April 30.
"This is the first exhibition outside of our own facility that the Amarillo Art Institute has gotten to do. All of our students and instructors are really, really excited to have the opportunity to have their work shown at another location," said Rachel Flores, executive director of the institute. Flores said there would be many paintings in the show -- acrylics, oils, watercolors, and pastels -- as well as sculpture, welded pieces, ceramics, and mixed media, all depicting a wide variety of subjects. "They are a very diverse group of works. … They pretty much represent everything that we teach at the institute," she said.
Among the artists being shown are Mike LaFleur, Chuck Bailey, Nelda Smith, Alex Gregory, Janette Dickerson, and Alex Gregory. Some of the artists, such as Bailey and LaFleur, have exhibited in Dumas before and have conducted workshops at The Art Center. Taken as a group, the exhibition is something new for Dumas. "When Marti (Christman, director of The Art Center) reached out to me … she said 'I would love to get exposure to new artists as well as give them exposure to a new group of people,' " said Flores.
The Amarillo Art Institute is a non-profit art school located in the old Sunset Center shopping mall. Begun by artist and art patron Ann Crouch in 2004, the institute was part of the larger complex of art galleries and exhibition facilities called Arts in the Sunset that Crouch created in the old mall, what she hoped would be a central location for art and artists in Amarillo. Over the years many area artists maintained galleries in the complex. Group exhibitions were held in what was once a JC Penny's store, and every first Friday night of every month art lovers from around the Panhandle turned out to eat, enjoy music, and look at and sometimes buy art during the popular First Friday Art Walks.
When Crouch died in 2017, the non-profit foundation she had created to continue her legacy ran into legal issues. For-profit galleries were not compatible with the foundation's non-profit status. The galleries had to close, but the institute survived. According to Flores, the institute will become the centerpiece of a renovated and reconfigured Art in the Sunset that will offer artists studio spaces and a public exhibition space while maintaining the foundation's non-profit status. Once renovations are complete, Flores even hopes to revive the First Friday Art Walks.
In the meantime, the institute continues to offer a wide variety of classes, workshops, and opportunities for artists to work and learn together in a group setting. Members doing ceramics have access to a kiln and other equipment "that would take up an entire dining room," while weavers can create their works on a loom that is too big to fit in the average home or home studio. After a two-month closure at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the institute is back open and growing, according to Flores. Social distancing is not a problem in the enormous facility the institute occupies. "Easels were more than six feet away from each other anyway." She said the institute now has 120 students. Part of the recent growth she attributes to people seeking the "mental health therapy" of art after the stresses of the pandemic. The therapeutic element of art is something that many people don't understand, said Flores, but it is one of the reasons she is so passionate about it. "We do a lot of outreach (among the homeless and in nursing homes) … and when you see how art affects people and how it pulls out their personalities, especially for people in nursing homes, who kind of forget who they were, it gives them that character back, that boost of confidence back and beyond that, I have witnessed students come in who are going through divorces, who are grieving, lost spouses, lost children, and art really is therapeutic for them, and it is so important, and I don't think people realize … it is important, and we should keep it around."