Orange Beach facility celebrates one year anniversary

Orange Beach facility celebrates one year anniversary
Coastal Art Center: An opportunity to experience art and celebrate life

By Amoreena Brewton
The Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach is celebrating its first year with its new fine arts gallery and full campus, which includes a hot glass shop, clay studio and art education classroom. Adjacent to the Waterfront Park and Kids’ Park, with the goal of offering both a beautiful and useful space for the public to enjoy, this creative campus has much to be proud of as it offers the Orange Beach community and visitors an opportunity to experience art and celebrate life in an extraordinary way.
Since the grand re-opening last August, the site has experienced remarkable creative development. With a Wolf Bay sunset view that photographers love, the gallery and the back lawn have become a premiere wedding venue, with 30 ceremonies being hosted in 2018. In November of last year the Center learned that the acoustics inside the arts center were exceptional when the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival featured several signature performances in the space. After that initial event, the Center created “The Listening Room” series to showcase a variety of performances including quartets, poetry readings, and children’s recitals. Presentations have also included music performed with the gallery’s new grand piano which was made possible by a donation from the Nancy Hilley Foundation and the Friends of the Arts, Inc. The most recent Listening Room event was a huge success featuring award-winning Nashville songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Cary Barlowe, Gordie Sampson and Troy Verges.
The addition of an Art Education Classroom has made it possible to offer a space for creative endeavors at all levels of interest. Classes offered range from an introduction to oil painting to advanced water color, with photography, drawing and acrylics in between. The After School and Home School Art Programs utilize this space meeting weekly to create, inspire and educate local students. In the summer months, the space also allows for kids’ drop-in classes to give families creative options beyond the beach. This classroom was also designed as a multi-use space allowing for business meetings or training classes, again with the aim of having both art and utility combine to meet the needs of the community.
Perhaps the most exciting change of all, though, is the artwork featured within the gallery. From huge paintings to stunning jewelry, waves of glass and coils of clay, wooden whales and surf motifs–the art gallery has something with which everyone can connect and enjoy. Moveable walls in the main gallery present an ever changing array of work from Gulf Coast artists. The executive conference room upstairs showcases the Center’s private art collection along with a custom hand-crafted cypress and glass conference table. The conference room has been used for business meetings and the gallery has hosted several special events and private parties. The facility has the distinction of being both extremely well-designed and amazingly beautiful.
The new facility has also changed the work life of the three full-time artists on staff. Kerry Parks, a glass artist-in-residence, noted, “The new gallery has been by far the most aesthetically spectacular addition inside and out. It has truly become the heart of our campus, allowing for us to show more artwork, host more events, and improve the functionality of our studios.” Along with Parks, clay artist Maya Blume-Cantrell and glass artist Dan Rush are excited by the changes. Both cite the increase in exposure as a benefit to sharing their art and their artistry with the community, as well as affording them the chance to welcome visiting artists into their studios.
One of the most unique elements of the Coastal Arts Center is that it is a city-owned entity. The Orange Beach city council voted unanimously to fund the construction of the new gallery and is supportive of a variety of programs that benefit both children and adults. The arts center also receives support from The Friends of the Arts through funding and volunteer opportunities. The Friends are who first saw a vision years ago to provide a hot glass studio and now The Hot Shop is one of only a few studios in the nation to offer glass-blowing classes to the public year-round. In an effort to make art accessible to as many people as possible, classes are available Monday through Friday in both the Hot Shop and the Clay Studio for hands-on experiences.
The biggest event of the year, by far, is the annual Orange Beach Festival of Art. With more than 100 artists working in an impressive array of fine arts media and gourmet cuisine from local fine-dining restaurants, festival-goers always have plenty to see, hear, touch, taste and experience. The City of Orange Beach departments work tirelessly together to organize and coordinate this exceptional event, which was named as one of eleven “must see” shows in the nation in 2018 by the industry standard “Sunshine Artist Magazine”. Crowds average 15,000 for the two day show on the second weekend of every March.
With a year of new art experiences and tremendous interest in the campus, the Coastal Arts Center will have a busy and bright future. Desiree Blackwell, the art center’s director observed, “This has been a year of learning and creativity as we work to find the best uses of our beautiful new space. We are so thankful to have a city administration that stands behind us, a community that supports our events, and to have our long-time non-profit group The Friends of the Arts play such an integral role in all that we do.” For more information about upcoming events and classes check out the Coastal Arts Center’s website at, or call 251-981-ARTS (2787).