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Waterworks Visual Arts Center celebrates 50 years with invitational show and sale

By Katie Scarvey
kscarvey@salisburypost.com
“This business is but a front for a temple, a healing place where people shall be lifted above the insanity of a frightened world.”
ó Marianne WilliamsonThat describes how a lot of people ó including Waterworks board member Barbara Setzer ó feel about Waterworks Visual Arts Center, which has its roots in a gathering of 26 artists who formed the Rowan Art Guild in 1959.
Waterworks has been many things to the Salisbury community over the years. It’s been a gallery of course, and a classroom for artists.
But it’s also been a place to feed the soul, a place where creativity is celebrated and dreams are nourished.
And now, Waterworks is ready celebrate a little, with its 50th Anniversary Artists’ Invitational and Sale.
It might not quite be accurate to say that Waterworks is 50, since Waterworks did not truly become Waterworks until 1986, when it not only changed its name but expanded its mission.
Artist Lou Murphy, who teaches painting workshops at Waterworks, believes that the upcoming celebration is about more than Waterworks itself.
“It’s about 50 years of art growth in this community, which is a great thing,” she said.
The anniversary event will be held at the F&M Trolley Barn on Easy Street in downtown Salisbury from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, April 17, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 18.
On Thursday, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., there will be an Artists’ Invitational and Sale Preview Party, for members and patrons of Waterworks, catered by P&C Smoke-A-Holics.
The Artists’ Invitational and Sale will feature more than 60 artists selling their art, with food vendors on hand as well. There is no charge for the artists to set up their exhibits, and Waterworks will not receive any commission on art sold.
The two-day event “is a way to thank people who have been our support,” said Anne Scott Clement, who has been the center’s executive director since November of 2007.
Waterworks board member Blake Evans says that being able to showcase local talent “gets back to the roots of this organization.”
A variety of media will be represented, including sculpture, painting of all different types, photography, block prints, fiber art glass art and jewelry.
The exhibit will include many well-known local artists including Betty Sedberry, Nancy Rogers, Phyllis Steimel, Robert Toth, Robert Crum, Sean Meyers, Glenn Yost, Marina Konovalova-Bare and Janie Allen, who has a long history with the organization.
Admission is $5, with proceeds benefiting the Katharine W. Osborne Scholarship fund, which provides need-based scholarships for art classes for both adults and children.
In 1959, a group of local artists came together as the Rowan Art Guild, led by Aubrey Atkinson as the group’s first president. Of those original artists, four are still living, including Barbara Welch, Lib Taylor, Clara Childs and Bryce Ludwig, the very first vice president.
That group’s first exhibit was held in the Corriher-Linn-Black Library at Catawba College. In 1963, the Rowan Art Guild was formally incorporated and began its search for a permanent home.
In 1977, it acquired a lease for its first home at 310 W. Kerr Street, which was the city’s first waterworks and then later the police station. The city provided the lease for $1 a year. In 1978, The Rowan Art Guild Gallery opened to the public.
An article in the Post dated February 8, 1978, talks about several nationally known artists coming to the First North Carolina Artists Invitational ó including a 37-year-old Bob Timberlake.
In 1986, the organization changed its name to the Waterworks Visual Arts Center, which coincided with its evolution toward becoming a regional art center.
Artist Lou Murphy has been an active part of the Rowan County arts community since 1972, when she moved here from California.
The growth of Waterworks, she says, “has meant a great deal to the town.”
The center wanted to bring in “much more exposure to many more types of art” to help educate the public, Murphy said. “I think that’s important.”
In 1990, a capital campaign chaired by Dick Virtue and Anna Mills Wagoner raised $600,000 expand the Center. The renovated center opened in April 1991.
In 1993, the Taylor Johnson Courtyard was dedicated in honor of benefactors Charles D. Taylor, Sr. and Frances H. “Billy” Johnson. The Hamlin Sensory Garden was given in memory of Lewis and Margot Hamlin by their children.
In 1995, the Edward and Marion Murphy Art Library was dedicated, a collection that is now housed in the new center’s Dula Library.
In 1999, Waterworks hit a milestone: it was accredited as a non-collecting museum by the American Association of Museums. It is one of only 14 nationally accredited museums in the state. It began looking for a permanent home, since the city of Salisbury decided to reclaim the Waterworks site for its expanding utilities department.
At the time, the Waterworks board president was Foster Owen, who believed that an opportunity was at hand.
The board considered some sites, with a priority being plenty of classroom space, which was limited at the old facility.
Paul Fisher and F&M Bank came forward to donate a downtown building ó formerly the McCanless Motor Company.
With far-reaching community support, Waterworks completed a successful $2.8 million capital campaign in 2001. The building was completely refurbished, and after 23 years on Kerr Street, Waterworks moved to its current facility on East Liberty Street in January 2003.
Chris Whitton and Margaret Kluttz were instrumental in the fundraising campaign, which won an N.C. Main Street Award in 2003 for Best Fundraising effort.
The current facility features more than 15,000 square feet ó more than double the size of the old Waterworks. The upstairs features beautiful, spacious studio space ó something lacking in the previous facility.
There is ample gallery space as well, including a Young People’s gallery, which has hosted many exhibits of student art.
The center’s educational mission has been expanded in recent years. Numerous workshops and classes are available, and many Rowan-Salisbury fifth-graders visit the center for ARTstops, which include a gallery tour and an art project. In the summer, Waterworks offers special programs for students.
Waterworks also participates in community outreach, with activities involving The Arc/Rowan, Trinity Oaks Retirement Community, Nazareth Children’s Home and others.
Although there has been some criticism that Waterworks has deviated from the Rowan Art Guild’s original purpose, Waterworks board member Babe Nobles believes that the current incarnation of Waterworks would have pleased members of the original group.
“These people wanted to bring art to the total community,” she said.
Local support for Waterworks is strong.
This year’s Oyster Roast Fundraiser ó the center’s signature fundraiser ó drew 560 guests and raised more than $30,000.
Each year, the center’s Family Fun Day brings art activities to families. This year’s is set for June 20 at the Trolley Barn.
For more information about Waterworks Visual Arts Center or the upcoming events, call 704-636-1882.

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