SEBASTIAN — The Sebastian River Art Club is seeking extra space at the former Sebastian City Hall building to set up a member-gallery and class space for teaching art lessons.
The group approached the Sebastian City Council this week to present their plans for approximately 1,000 square feet of space that is currently not being used. Three of the five members of council heard the request, as Mayor Richard Gillmor – president of the club – excused himself from the discussion and Councilman Don Wright was absent.
“Art in Sebastian is a really strong thing,” new Sebastian River Art Club member Toni Hill told the council, explaining that she recently moved from a small town up north and had no idea how much art was here.
The space in question is the area where Public Works Department once worked out of the old Council Chambers building. It has been vacant for the last three or four years, used as a storage area of sorts.
The council members directed City Manager Al Minner to work up a lease agreement with the club for the additional space. That lease would then come back to the council for a vote.
Hill told the council that the gallery would be divvied among approximately 15 members who have expressed a willingness to pay rent for their space.
Funds generated from the rents would go back into the gallery’s treasury, making it financially self-sufficient, she said.
Gallery members would be allowed to sell their artwork at the gallery. The commission would go into the gallery’s treasury, as well.
There would also be room set aside for art classes that members would teach to various age groups. The gallery would also have room for “traveling” exhibits, which could include art from the various local schools, non-club members, and theme work.
The gallery would be managed under a committee formed through the art club and would be open the same days as the Sebastian Area Historical Museum in an effort to attract a shared audience.
The Sebastian Community Center is currently the meeting place for Stepping Stone Quilters, the Sebastian River Art Club, a Bridge club, the Sebastian Property Owners Association, the Power Squadron, and others.
“We’ve been able to share,” Minner said of the city’s staff scheduling the various groups at the center.
At a previous council meeting, the members suggested they take another look at the community center to determine how best to utilize the building. Among those suggestions was the possibility of tearing down the structure and building anew.
“I’m just a little nervous,” Councilwoman Andrea Coy said of allowing the art club to put a lot of work into the center for their gallery only to find out that the city has chosen to tear down the building.
Hill told the council that the members who wish to be part of the gallery are aware that the future is not clear for the community center.
“We would be happy with anything we can get at this point,” Hill said.
After the meeting, Minner said he expects to work out a formal lease agreement with the club “soon” but would not say when he expects to bring it to the council for a vote.
Louise Kautenburg said after the meeting that she has concerns about leasing public space for what would amount to private enterprise – considering the gallery members would be selling their artwork and offering art classes.
“It makes me sick to think of it,” she said of the impact the gallery could have on local businesses.
Mayor Gillmor said Thursday that Sebastian had just one art gallery – and that recently closed. He said the city has a need for an arts center, which would be a “great resource for the community.”
While the gallery would generate revenue from commissions, the art classes – Mayor Gillmor expects – would cost enough to cover materials but would not be a major revenue generator for the gallery.
As president of the Sebastian River Art Club and a member of the Sebastian City Council, Mayor Gillmor said he would not be allowed to vote on the club’s lease. He, also, would not be allowed to rent space or otherwise participate in the gallery because it would be a conflict of interest.