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Art Guild establishes storefront, sets sights on growth

BY KAYLAN THOMPSON kthompson@paducahsun.com

A

Market House Square building became the long-awaited community anchor for the Art Guild of Paducah in April, a move that had been more than seven years in the making.

Taking advantage of the population influx during the American Quilter's Society Quilt Week in May, the guild originally rented the space as a temporary pop-up shop. Finding success, the guild continued to make its home in the brick and mortar location, which has helped to nearly double its membership base.

"We've always wanted to move into a store, to have a permanent place, and we went out on a limb and said, 'OK, we're going to do this,'" said Susan French, guild treasurer. "We looked in this window and saw the track lights, the floor, and the flavor of this building was perfect for a gallery. Being downtown on the square is the best and it feels good to be here."

Since its inception in 2009, the guild had been in search of a physical space to serve as a showcase space and community art hub.

In the past, the group met regularly in various venues around Paducah, so having a storefront has added a sense of home for the guild.

"We needed this anchor," French said. "When we first opened in April, people were bringing in pieces to fluff things up to make it look like it was full. Now, we're having growing pains because we're having to find places to put things, which is wonderful."

In 2009, the group took off with about 60 members in tow, but with no physical location to call their own, that membership base dwindled over the years to about 25 artists.

Since establishing a store, the group has added about 40 members, inciting hope among longtime members about the group's future.

"The response we've had here has been very positive from the community, and our members now range from southern Illinois down to Nashville," said Suzi Hoffman, guild vice president. "We've got a wonderful diversity of artists. Our gallery is a wonderful collection of art, but it's a wonderful collection of people, too."

The guild's membership base now reaches about 70 members, she said, a surge she attributes to the new storefront.

"We're growing like crazy. We always had nice turnouts for individual shows, but now we have a place to show our work all the time and sell it," she said. "Paducah is developing into a nice stop-off, a place for tourists. I looked the other day at our guest book and we had visitors from 25 states and three countries, just in the first couple of months. So we want to encourage local residents to come down and see what we have going on, too."

One of the guild's newest members, Micki Bishop, said joining the group felt like fate, "like it was meant to happen."

"The timing was perfect," said Bishop, a Paducah stained glass artist who joined the guild in May. "I didn't have enough resources to open my own store, but I wanted to network with other creative people."

Having an established store will open up more grant opportunities to help expand the guild's offerings and outreach, French added. She said members would like to have separate spaces for an art and craft gallery, a retail store, and classroom space.

"We have the opportunity to do more and more," she said. "It has taken us a long time to get here, but we are here. We get to be surrounded by all this artwork, and it makes me happy to see it all in one place."

With its prime location at 115 Market House Square near the theater, Maiden Alley Cinema and the Yeiser Art Center, Hoffman added that the guild is further positioned to promote the arts and crafts movement in Paducah.

"We want to have people think of Paducah as a center for really wonderful arts and crafts, the same way that UNESCO picked this community to be a destination for arts and crafts," she said. "We're one of only three designations in the United States, so we are excited to be a part of that and continue to grow in attracting more artists and grow and expand physically. We're excited to see what the future holds."

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