Artistic escape
Olde Town art gallery offers outlet for creativity

In these tough economic times, organizers of the newly established Olde Town Gallery and Studio hope that the public will find refuge within the gallery's four walls.

Stop in, grab a cup of coffee and get lost in the art or retreat to a nook in the back of the gallery to read a book or work on your laptop, urges gallery Executive Director Colye Justman. If you're feeling like you want to delve in a little deeper, take one of several art classes offered at the gallery for just $15 per hour, he suggests.

"The impetus of this gallery is that, and I'm very passionate about this, art is more than just looking at pictures on the wall. When (Assistant Director) Trish (Bilich) and I got together a ways back and talked, our No. 1 conversation was about creating a culture. It will start at this gallery and work its way out," said Justman, an artist himself. "This is the place to come if you have anything to do with art."

Olde Town Gallery and Studio organizers invite the public to a grand opening of the gallery, located at 909 Commercial St. in Olde Town, on Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. The opening exhibit features dozens of works of art by students in the Rockdale County Public School system along with other pieces rendered by professional artists.

Operating under the umbrella of the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts, a nonprofit that offers live theater, musical performances, a youth art camp and shows for children, the Olde Town Gallery and Studio is designed to be a hub for both local and area-wide artists, as well as youth, to show their work.

"The whole concept of this gallery and studio is that we have raised the bar for the quality of art we'll have," said Justman, who added that the gallery will display only original works of art, not prints or reproductions.

The other key component of the gallery is education, said Jeff Beech, a Rockdale resident and philanthropist instrumental in launching the gallery.

Beech purchased the building in which the gallery is housed and is allowing the CRCA to utilize the space free of charge. He also financed extensive renovations to the building, formerly the D. Morgan Gallery.

"Our stipulation was that it was not just a gallery but also a place that offers education accessible to all people in the community, especially those with special needs," said Beech, who ensured the building met ADA specifications by including a wheelchair lift to the second floor and bathrooms that are wheelchair accessible.

CRCA is partnering with the ASPIRE Coalition to present programs at the gallery for the special-needs population, and is working with the Rockdale County Public School system and private schools to include student activities at the gallery such as instruction for young artists on how to become gallery-ready.

The gallery is offering art classes to the general public for ages 8 and up in areas such as oil, acrylic and watercolor painting, pastels, children's illustration, pottery, wood carving, sculpting, stained glass and photography. Art forums are also planned.

"The important thing is that we are trying to provide something to the community that the community can operate and that will be accessible to all," Beech said.

The 5,500-square-foot building features roughly 2,800 square feet of hanging space, an upstairs classroom area, offices, private studio space, a kiln and storage space. Movable walls allow museum staff to redesign the hanging space as needed. Above a wide staircase leading to the second floor classroom area hangs a massive glass chandelier decorated with stained glass made by Greta Beech, Jeff Beech's wife.

The motto of the gallery is "Art defines culture in its broadest sense."

"I am thrilled with the prospect of having truly a family-friendly destination spot in Olde Town that will also be able to partner with other businesses and organizations," Beech said. "It's the all-inclusive version of trying to be able to do that."

Admission to the gallery is free and hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 770-929-9242.

E-mail Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

· What: Olde Town Gallery and Studio Grand Opening

· When: Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m.

· Where: Olde Town Gallery and Studio, 909 Commercial St. in Olde Town Conyers

· Cost: Free and open to the public. Call 770-929-9242 for more information.