The Athens Art Guild has held a special place in Athens’ heart with the help of the artists involved. Being an artist support group, the guild provides a way for local artists to find each other and share their passion for art.
Amanda Buchanan, the vice president of the guild and owner of Plays With Glass, explained that starting out, it was only a group of four artists. Growth eventually started and the guild turned into a larger group of about 50 dedicated artists.
“We thought it would be great if we could represent ourselves and help people to understand what our needs are in the community, and for shows and for advocating for the arts and the artists in our region,” Kelly Lawrence, owner of Green Mantle Studio, said. “And then we thought, ‘You know what, we could start our own shows.’”
Athens Art Guild has stuck to creating an inclusive inclusion of artists that are devoted to their art. Artists are able to help motivate and mentor other artists that have joined the guild more recently. It’s a cycle of growth and development.
“We knew that there were a lot of artists in the area, and we wanted to bring them together to support one another, really,” Buchanan said. “So over time, the group took on –– I think three, three main legs of the stool, if you will. The first is support to local artists. The second is giving to one another. And then the next is being able to vendor, vending opportunities or selling opportunities in the area to create them and to maintain them. And then the third is to give back to the community.”
In order to give back, the guild has had to find a safe way to showcase their art. They have been able to take a place in the winter market at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m..
“Considering that we're in a pandemic, and we can't really do a whole lot of shows, it's actually been very good,” Lisa Heinz, owner of Southeast Ohio Fiberworks, said. “I think what has been really nice about it is that the art guild has an arrangement with the farmers market to allow us to sell art at the farmers market. And without that, without being a selling member of the art guild, I wouldn't be able to do that. That's really the only way I have any one to one contact with customers, is through my association with the art guild. And I mean, the people that are there great.”
Before COVID, throughout Athens, the non-profit found ways to give back to the community. Buchanan elaborated on their outreach within the Athens school district.
“Our specific mission has been, up to this point, to provide grants to local school teachers, art teachers, in Athens county and the counties that surround it,” Buchanan said. “During normal times, we have a big holiday shop –– part of the application is the artist –– each has to give an item to be auctioned off. All of that money goes towards then, school supplies for teachers.”
Building relationships in the community is of utmost importance to the guild. However, building relationships with one another holds just as much sentiment.
“I have had a great experience, so far, with my involvement with the art guild,” Hannah Simonetti, owner of Spiral Path Therapies, said. “Beth Weingroff, the president, is just wonderful. And she has been really supportive of me throughout this process and I think that probably every art guild member feels that way about Beth. She is really organized and passionate, and has done a lot for the organization in the couple of years that she has been president. I've also definitely made connections with other sellers at the market, which has been really nice. It just feels like a very supportive non competitive environment.”
Sharing a love for art, the artists have been able to individually express their passion through their personalized artwork. That’s the beauty of the artists in the guild, all their art is different and has its own story.
“I joined the Athens Art Guild, just, I don't know how many years ago, 10 years ago, maybe,” Spirit Williams, owner of Spirit of the Hills, said. “And then finally started doing their Christmas show. And I just have become friends with so many of the Athens Art Guild. A lot of them are my Facebook friends, so I get to keep up with what's going on down there. And that's pretty much what it is just because when you make a living as an artist, you pretty much stay home in your studio and work.”
Becoming an artist is a full time commitment and can be a difficult career path, but the artists encourage those thinking of trying out art, to take that next step.
“Keep with it, don't let your doubts about yourself and your abilities keep you down,” Heinz said. “Just know that your art is attractive to someone out there. And so if you want to get your name out there, get your art out there and just get people seeing it, that is how you will grow as an artist and constantly –– constantly work on your art. Don't give up on it.”
Being able to express themselves through their art has created meaningful and long-lasting opportunities within the Athens Art Guild. Once large crowds are able to resume, the guild will once again be able to showcase their artwork in many ways but until then, the people of Athens can support them by visiting them at the Athens farmers market or by admiring their work from afar.
Lawrence expresses that the artists are approachable people and that if anyone has an interest to join, they can apply using an application found on the Athens Art Guild website.
“We have so many qualified and wonderful artists in this community,” Buchanan said. “It's a real pleasure to be able to showcase them.”