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State of the Arts in the Ohio Valley

Part 4: Writing the Next Chapter (part 1)

March 16, 2013
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

Around 40,000 years ago man began creating, first for practical reasons, then for communication and, eventually, for decoration and self-expression. Two-thousand years ago (probably well before), the Greeks were analyzing art: "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." - Aristotle.

In other words, it is the artist's job to convey what is speaking to him, not merely report what is there. The process of creation draws on the senses, emotions, experience and, many times, immersion. Actors become their parts; chefs cultivate flavor and consistency; architects live through every inch of their spaces. Because each person is individual, each is inspired and affected in different ways and chooses the mode of expression which also speaks to him, with which he is most comfortable.

"Words speak to me. They've always interested me," says Sharon Hanse, a calligraphy artist from Barnesville. "I'm inspired by them."

Article Photos

The mural fence at the Gallery in Powhatan Point was created by Dorothy Milton, owner, and Cathy Carpenter, artist. Children who attended the Captina Creek River Raid painted the creatures. Milton and her group, Ohio River Artists, will be providing more interactive opportunities to experience art this year.

Since the sixth grade when her teacher added an art room, she experimented with various forms of art. Growing up in Cleveland, she was encouraged to attend summer classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Years later during her banking career, Hanse found herself using her calligraphy talent at the office, and she began developing an inventory for shows and doing commissions. When she married an artist, retired from banking and moved to the Ohio Valley, her husband encouraged her to follow her artistic passion and become a full-time artist.

Hanse is the exception in the Ohio Valley. A recent survey by the Ohio Valley Young Preservationists polled a listing of artists, and, of those within a 45 mile radius of Wheeling, only 12 of 131 (9 percent) could be considered full-time. Nearly 30 percent (39 artists) answered that zero percent of their family incomes came from their art.

Robert Villamagna, artist, West Liberty University assistant professor of art and director of the Nutting Gallery, mentions a "fire in the belly" attitude to create, and that, to artists, communication through making art is usually a higher priority than making money.

Dave Adams agrees. He is a drummer and vocalist, but developed in 2009 to promote local talent and venues. "I know musicians who have quit well-paying jobs to play music locally and on the road. Music is not only an outlet, but an emotional experience."

As Duke Ellington said, "I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues." Pouring one's soul into artworks can be draining, but also therapeutic - for the artist, the audience and even a community. In 1984, Philadelphia struggled with dilapidated buildings and overgrown vacant lots while juvenile offenders ran rampant with spray paint posting graffiti. The mayor hired a muralist, Jane Golden, to work with convicted graffiti artists. Today, 3,000 city murals tell the story of Philadelphia's history and people and have become tourist attractions. The project gave youth offenders a positive, constructive outlet for their creative energy and a source of pride in their city.

As an art therapist, Villagmagna notes that "art is a basic form of communication" and "can help someone through change or to better communicate, especially when that person finds verbal interaction too uncomfortable or blocked."

Without a basic understanding of art or the artist, the vision is lost, adds artist Nancy Tirone, who is also an associate professor of art and university supervisor for art education at West Liberty. "Education and exposure to art fosters appreciation and understanding. If we are to talk intelligently about this painting or that sculpture, we have to know why [it was created], what the artist was thinking. You're coming at it from thinking creatively. That's why education is important."

Hanse and other artists see that as one of the biggest challenges here: providing enough education about and exposure to the arts to get people interested in its benefits. Seeing a local band or theater production, taking in an artist's reception or book signing, or visiting glass company museums or the Underground Railroad museum are all readily available cultural experiences within a 25 mile radius - some of them even free of charge. Artists showing support for each other in the community is also important.

"Artists shake things up," Villamagna adds. "Artists often challenge commonly held perspectives with innovative thinking. They raise awareness about social issues, break down barriers to cross-cultural understanding and global dialogue and inspire creative ideas."

This area in particular may have an opportunity there. While film crews have shot major motion pictures here during the past few years, the Ohio Valley's reputation remains one of poverty and hardship. One actor on a network late night program described his experience here as, "The people were great, salt of the earth, but the area is the rust belt. There's nothing there but empty steel mills and coal mines."

It's not an attractive picture to potential tourists or to new, creative industries. Shifting to an asset-based strategy will take some creative thinking and positive attitudes. That is where artists can be of assistance. Hanse mentions another trait that many artists share: the genuine love for what they do.

Many are not only devoted to their craft, but share their talents with others and with the community for the greater good.

As another Greek creative thinker, Aristophanes, said, "Let each man exercise the art he knows."

Tomorrow, the final article in this series will list a few local places to see, experience and participate in the arts.



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