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Kingsport Art Guild marks 70th birthday

Debra McCown Thomas • Jun 30, 2019 at 10:28 AM

The Kingsport Art Guild was founded in 1949, so that’s where the music will start at its 70th birthday celebration.

Hits from the last seven decades will be performed by entertainer Curt Mathson and birthday cake will be given out at the event, which will double as this year’s kickoff reception for the Fun Fest Art Show. It will be held from 2 to 4 p.m., June 30, in the guild’s second floor gallery inside the Renaissance Arts Center in Kingsport.

The art show will be in the gallery for a month, showcasing the work of artists from across the region.

“The Fun Fest competition is unique because one of the categories is for Celebrate Kingsport paintings, and so some of the paintings are very much focused on local scenes and local Kingsport,” says Carol Dixon, president of the guild.

“We have entries all the way from students to very seasoned professionals who enter the show, so it’s fun to see the range of talent. I’m always blown away by the spectacular exhibitions that we have. We really have wonderful talent in this region.”

The Kingsport Art Guild, founded in 1949 by a group of artists in the community, has from the beginning held classes and workshops and focused on outreach projects – the same thing it’s still doing 70 years later.

“I think [the reason it’s continued for so long] is probably the same reason that the guild exists today, is that artists – novices as well as those aspiring to be professionals as well as professional artists – benefit from working with each other and learning from each other, and building that community to be able to exchange artistic ideas and express appreciation of art,” Dixon says.

“There are not many places to do that. So, I think that is what drew the initial group together and what continues to be the glue that holds the members and the public’s interest in what the art guild does.”

The Kingsport Art Guild draws its members from as far away as Erwin and Chuckey in East Tennessee and into Southwest Virginia past Gate City and Abingdon.

Janet Hartmann, chairperson for the guild’s Fun Fest Art Show, says the goal has always been not just to encourage artists in the region but also to increase awareness of the arts in the broader community.

“The art league does try to do outreach to the community in various ways, and the Fun Fest show is a really good way to do that because the Fun Fest celebration is all about the celebration of the community,” Hartmann says.

The event is one of three competitive art shows the organization puts on each year, in addition to regular exhibitions at the Renaissance Arts Center. The Fun Fest show is unique in that it’s open to the community with no jury process required for entry. Winners get cash prizes – including one for the piece of artwork that best illustrates the essence of Kingsport.

The other two competitive shows each year are the Appalachian Art Show, held in the spring, which is also open to the public but has juried entries; and a show in the fall that’s open only to members. Each of the guild’s exhibitions opens with a reception where the public can come to see the work, talk to the artists, and learn more about the guild.

In addition to hosting shows and exhibits, the guild also hosts weekly “paint-in” events at the Renaissance Center and often offers classes and workshops. Member sub-groups also meet regularly to work on their art.

Another important part of what keeps the art guild going, Dixon says, is its continual look toward the future: The organization knows that, like art, it must evolve. There are hopes, she says, of someday opening an art school to provide instruction through a semester-based program.

“The Kingsport Art Guild has over 100 members that come from all over the region, so I think it’s a very powerful art organization and, given the challenges that many nonprofits and artistic organizations have gone through since 2008, I think we present a very strong voice for the creative community,” Dixon says.

“We just continue to grow, and I think too our source [of endurance] has been that we continue to change. We continue to represent what is on the horizon of art – not just doing art that maybe your grandmother did, but also doing art that the grandkids do.”

For more information about the Kingsport Art Guild, you can visit www.kingsportartguild.com, e-mail them at art@kingsportartguild.com, call (423) 246-1227, or check out their gallery at the Renaissance Arts Center, 1200 East Center Street in Kingsport.