Local Treasures with Pia: ACE brings art to rural schools in Eastern Oregon

La Grande, Oregon – In a stately old library building in the middle of town is where you will find Art Center East (ACE). Abigail Shown is the development coordinator for this multifaceted arts institution, which was founded in 1977 as the Eastern Oregon Regional Arts Council.

The main mission of ACE – which recently received some funding from the Avista Foundation – is to provide arts education to K-8 students and teachers across Eastern Oregon.

“Because this part of Oregon, just like large parts of Northern Idaho and Washington, is very rural there is little or no funding for arts in the public school system,” Shown said. “We have an artist in rural schools’ program where an artist can come and teach their medium in a school.”

Funding from Avista and other grant givers goes toward covering the salary for the artist and other expenses associated with teaching a class in for instance oil painting.

“It lets us provide these classes for free or at a very reduced cost,” Shown said.

Typically an artist will do a week-long residency at the school.

“Right now we have a fiddler named Kelly Thibodeaux who’s been requested by many or our rural schools,” Shown said. “These are mostly Title One schools, far out in the middle of nowhere, so it’s very special to be able to bring this program in.”

ACE was closed or had very limited hours during COVID, a time Shown said was used to applying for grants and other funding. Her and her colleagues were so successful that ACE can now pay its teachers $8 per student per hour they teach. That’s up by $3.

“That will start in September,” Shown said. “We average about 150 class hours per quarter, and we have about 60 teaching artists on our roster. It is so important that we can pay them.”

The next big fundraising goal for ACE is to raise an estimated $400,000 to install a lift that will make the building ADA compliant, by making it possible for those with limited mobility to reach the gallery shop on the top floor.

“The city has committed $50,000 and the community has donated $30,000 and we have gotten funding from grant givers; it’s just going to take a while to make it,” Shown said.

In the meantime, ACE is operating at full speed ahead. The building holds a glass blowing studio and a ceramics studio, and features ongoing exhibits in three galleries. Admission is always free and hours are Wednesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visit artcentereast.org for more information on gallery shows and classes.

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