By Stephen Smoot
It started last year with a community meeting and ever since has “galvanized as a focal point to spearhead projects in the community.”
So says Brendan Gallagher, one of the founders of the Shinnston Arts Foundation.
Last Thursday evening, teh group held an open community meeting. The agenda lay wide open, but generally covered the accomplishments of the first year, lessons learned, and crafting plans for next year. Appropriately, the meeting took place in The Soapbox on Pike Street, attendees surrounded by the products of local and state artists.
“We’re trying to beautify the city in the best possible way,” Sarah Benson, president of SAF, shared with the group.
Kent Spellman represented the Cultural Foundation of Harrison County suggested that the meeting have two major goals, recount “what it has done in the past year since it’s been created,” and plan ways to “build on what’s happened in the past year.” In addition to working on projects, Spellman suggested that the group focus on ways to attract donors and volunteers.
Also, the group agreed that SAF stood for both beautifying the community and creating conditions that encourage “the arts to flourish.”
Group members agreed that arts efforts relied on the support of a number of groups and individuals in Shinnston. Spellman counted among “groups willing to step up,” the DECA club at Lincoln High School. Their efforts earned an EPIC grant that they used for two purposes, to beautify the West Fork Trail and also create events to bring more people in to use it.
Trail based activities during both Hallowe’en and Christmas drew hundreds.
Additionally SAF works closely with the Shinnston Community Band, some of whose performers attended the meeting. The band has entertained locals and visitors since 1996 with performers sometimes coming from as far away as Tucker and Pocahontas counties. Spellman said “Shinnston has a reputation with that community band.”
Kathleen Panek, city clerk and owner of the Gillum House bed and breakfast, shared that the Aristotle Jones segment on Dave Weekley’s statewide radio broadcast has brought attention to the overall music scene. She said “quite frequently Shinnston is mentioned. Shinnston is mentioned a lot. And I like that!”
Recently another group has formed to provide live music to the city, the Brass Rhythm and Sax Orchestra.
One major decision early on shaped the nature of the organization. At first, members intended to create an independent non-profit. With its mission so closely aligned to the Cultural Foundation for Harrison County, however, leadership decided to “focus on projects instead of paperwork. SAF functions under the aegis of the county foundation as a result.
Over the past year, SAF has served as a part of several arts programs for the community. This includes the art walk, the Shindy Music Festival, and a number of other projects.
Perhaps the most successful lay in putting together The Pallette, located on Pike Street. The Pallette, whose curator is Bethany Nuzum, serves as a hub for artistry in Shinnston. It is an art gallery, but also holds a variety of types of art classes and looks for creative ways to focus on art.
Spellman noted that “Shinnston has the only community based art gallery in the county.”
Gallagher discussed an ongoing effort to create murals on the sides of various buildings in downtown. Many smaller cities have used these to brighten and improve streetscapes. SAF has already started working to place one on the side of City Hall, but a water line broke while workers tried to power wash the wall.
He added that “the people want this. If you build it, they will come.” Gallagher also stated, however, that the group must “identify ideas that make sense.”
Member Wesley Benson suggested a holding a “mystery theater,” a concept successful elsewhere. Michelle Stover added that current trivia based activities are popular in town and that SAF could use the idea for fundraising.
Gallagher also suggested that SAF work together and with other groups to create a positive narrative around efforts to improve the town across the board. Spellman added “it’s up to all of us and others to provide content.”