The Lacombe Art Guild is the little club that could.
At a time when some Alberta community art groups are floundering, with dwindling and aging membership, the guild has more than doubled its paid members — to more than 40 from 17 — in just three years.
Artists taking regular classes and workshops at the Lacombe Memorial Centre range from 15-year-olds to working parents and seniors. Most reside in the community of 12,000, but others drive in from Blackfalds and Red Deer — in one case Innisfail.
President June Lundie thinks her club has a template for keeping groups vital — and wants to share it so others can use it for their continued survival.
The guild, formed in 2007, began running out of steam a few years ago. Lundie said the founding members were in their 70s and looking to step back from organizational duties.
After joining on a word-of-mouth referral in 2011, Lundie was pulled in to the guild’s executive. Along with her new vice-president Joanne Daviduck and treasurer Donna Tugwood, she realized they had to start doing things differently.
Among their first changes was bringing in Leanne Pruden to run the club’s Facebook page, and to email about special events. To reach younger members you have to use social media, reasoned Lundie.
While club members’ art had been hanging in the Lacombe Memorial Centre, “we thought, where else can we go to get some more notoriety?” she recalled.
It occurred to them that the walls of a popular local restaurant could benefit from some colourful art. Lundie and club secretary Penny Thompson spoke to the owner of Cilantro and Chive, who was happy to allow original local paintings in — as long as the club organized their hanging.
Club member Lorine Kelly agreed to become the club’s art venue co-ordinator.
Patron feedback was so good that the owner of Eastside Eatery followed suit. Not only were guild artists selling more work, local charities benefited when restaurant owners decided to donate their 10 per cent art sales commissions.
Lundie said the exposure stirred more community interest in the club. The executive lowered yearly membership fees, but added a mandatory volunteering clause. All members now have to devote several hours to helping with art shows, workshops, or hanging of new art at the two restaurants and the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
Lundie stressed it’s important that classes and workshops are held when working people and students can attend.
Community relationship building is also vital. Local teens learned about the club when the guild used a portion of membership fees to fund two school art bursaries. Their high school art teacher was also invited to teach a workshop at the guild.
“I want other groups to know that they also have the potential to grow if they are open to it,” Lundie added.