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Thursday, July 8, 2004 09:02 pm

Prairie Art Alliance thrives in new location

Patrick Shavloske, executive director, Prairie Art Alliance
Photo by Job Conger

Since moving in January from its location on North Fifth Street to the Hoogland Center for the Arts, the Prairie Art Alliance has acquired more than a vastly improved venue for its gallery and activities -- it has also taken on a new executive director. Patrick Shavloske began his new role on Feb. 26.

Already a familiar face to PAA supporters, 32-year-old Shavloske arrived in Springfield in 2003 as an aid director for the center, employed by CCS, a Chicago-based fundraising company. Previously he was director of development at the Indianapolis Art Center.

"When I arrived in May last year, I was going to be here only two months," Shavloske recalls. "We were going to write the campaign materials, and they [the Hoogland Center] were going to execute the plan. But they found they just didn't have the staff in place to conduct the campaign. My two-month involvement was extended twice."

When PAA director Bobbie Pierro's husband was transferred to a new job, Pierro approached Shavloske, gauging his interest in her job. He leaped at the opportunity. "The timing was great. I had wanted to leave fundraising," Shavloske says.

Shavloske took over an organization with a rich history in the capital city.

PAA began more than 25 years ago as an art project that was part of the Sojourn Women's Center. For many years, the Women's Art Alliance was a forum for women artists who wanted to talk about and promote their work.

"In 1994, they decided they needed a gallery of their own," Shavloske says. "President Pat Anderson, who's still an art instructor and very much a part of our organization, approached members, asking if they were willing to pay more than basic dues to make it happen, and the rest is history. They discovered in 1995 that they needed professional staff to help them run the effort. They couldn't staff it with volunteers alone. That's when they hired Bobbie."

That same year, the organization got a new name. Lorraine Pilcher, a volunteer since 1988, remembers, "We admitted three or four men as members in 1994, and it became obvious a name change was on the horizon." In 1996, PAA rented the Fleischli House, 807 N. Fifth St., from Springfield Art Association and set up shop -- and gallery.

The recent move was trauma-free, Shavloske says. "The trustees from the Center for the Arts told us, 'Let us know what your overhead is in terms of rent, utilities, and we will match that cost [with the rent charged to PAA].' We are paying the same amount as we did on Fifth Street. It's incredible. That's why the Center for the Arts' fundraising effort is so important: They need to get an endowment in place to make up the difference in operating costs."

Art classes at the more secure center are gaining in popularity. Parking in the adjacent parking ramp is free to participants after 5 p.m. and on weekends. "Figure Drawing Open Studio" (for intermediate and advanced artists) and "Design and Dinner," introduced this year, have proved popular. The latter class brings a parent and a child aged 6 to 12 together for learning and creativity.

"We asked them to grab a sack dinner, come by, and eat while watching an artist demonstrate a technique [colored-pencil drawing, wood sculpture, air-dry clay, batik dyeing] and then make that kind of art," Shavloske says. "We limited this to seven pairs, and it was very well received." Also offered throughout the year are workshops and individual instruction.

The Business Arts Services program, started in 1998, "rents" local art to corporate members for six-month displays. Art is also available to corporate supporters through a rent-to-own arrangement.

Today, PAA is supported by 124 member artists. To become a member, an artist must submit examples or slides of art he or she has created in the past two years, along with a jurying fee. The deadline for submissions this year is 3 p.m. Saturday, July 31. Associate and corporate memberships are also available for individuals and businesses who want to support the arts. "We have just more than 100 associate members right now, and we're working to increase that," Shavloske says. Associates receive discounts on gallery sales and art classes.

Shavloske notes that PAA has room for an artist-in-residence. For a nominal rental fee, an artist may set up and work in an on-site studio at the Center.

PAA provides space for artists whose work may not be as commercially viable, unlike a commercial gallery, which must keep a close eye on the bottom line. "We're a not-for-profit organization," Shavloske says. "If an artist's work doesn't sell, that's OK. We still display the work, based on merit as judged by a jury." Still, a quantity of quality is evident in every piece of art at PAA because each piece is juried in. And Shavloske concedes that the judging of art, even by the best-educated practitioner, has its subjective element.

"Since we ask each artist to submit a résumé, our juries know the names of those submitting their work. We are looking to change that to enable anonymous submissions in the future."

PAA presents six exhibitions every year, usually featuring two artists at a time. This year, with Making the Grade, which opens Nov. 3, PAA will depart from tradition by inviting local university faculty members who aren't members of the alliance.

This Saturday, July 10, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., a reception will be held for The Subject Is Still Life,featuring sculpture by Donna Heinz and pastel paintings by Rita Williams. The exhibit continues through Aug. 28. As part of Prairie Art Alliance's efforts to interface with other activity at the Center for the Arts, the gallery will be open an hour before the 8 p.m. July 9 performance of Hot Tuna Acoustic and will reopen during the first intermission. "We're going to be doing this more and more," Shavloske says. "There is a synergy that supports all the arts."

Looking to the future, Shavloske says, "My goal for Prairie Art Alliance is that we will be the name people think of when they want to buy an original piece of art.

"There are a lot of extremely talented artists here."

Prairie Art Alliance is located at the Center for the Arts, 420 S. Sixth St. Hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.

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