Mena Art Gallery started in 1945, and has grown from a group of artists meeting in their homes to the exciting art center you see today. Here are some of the details:
1945 – SWA started during World War II with people painting in each other’s homes.
1961 – Dot Howell organized the first LaVora Painting Workshop in Old Potter.
1969 – School Superintendent Manning of Wickes revived interest by starting an adult painting class.
1972 – LaVora Workshops and SWA became one and worked at 706 Mena Street.
1982 – SWA was organized officially by writing Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws, and filing with the Secretary of State. Founding members were: Carol Nesbitt, Mena; Dayton Holman, Wickes; Wade Wilson, Grannis; Carole McLaughlin, Wickes; Kitty Hughes, Vandervoort; Lorene Hendricks, DeQueen; Dola Head, Mena; Dot Howell, Mena; LaVora McCall, Wickes.
1982 – SWA was awarded non-profit status (501(c)(3)). SWA worked at 701 Mena Street (corner of Mena and Maple) at the time until the Water Department rented the space to a dress shop.
1982 – First National Bank designated the second floor mezzanine for SWA artwork. SWA began a circulation program with First National, Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, and various restaurants.
1983 – As president of SWA, Lucy Mulcahy wrote and circulated a petition to KCS railroad asking for the Depot to be repaired and used as a permanent gallery. In order to be more effective, we formed the Mena Depot Commission. Board Chair Mary Stoker headed the fund-raising and restoration committees.
1984 – Our building fund started with a donation from Rachel Goforth and her brother, William Watkins. We continued to supplement it with many silent and regular auctions, plant and bake sales, donations from businesses and from our members plus several generous donations from Mena natives Alvina Schreiner and Dr. and Mrs. Walter Geyer.
1985 – SWA leased space upstairs at 601 Mena St. on condition that we replumb, rewire, paint and refurbish space, which was badly deteriorated as there had been broken windows and holes in the roof. The floor was in a terrible state. We continued with our program of classes and circulation of work while renovation was going on. When it was finished, we resumed our spring and fall exhibits as well as shows of individual artists and special shows for adults and children. It cost a great deal in time, money and effort, but when we were finished, we had a spacious, well-lighted gallery upstairs with classrooms, 2 bathrooms, a fully appointed kitchen, and a beautiful floor. We lost it when the city sold it as a loft.
1988 – SWA started High School shows for the area with Mena High School acting as host school. We had the first few shows at upstairs gallery and then at the Old Armory when the shows got too big and we lost our space upstairs. We started with 3 schools, but have had as many as 11. Funding for the prizes has come from supportive area merchants, some of the banks and several schools.
1993 – SWA The gallery was sold as a loft. We rented a small room in back of City Hall with a room upstairs for classes. The stairs were dangerous and space too small, so we had our meetings at SWEPCO, receptions and shows at the First National Bank, and classes and workshops at Firehouse II and the Old Armory. The circulation program continued throughout.
1998-2002 – We lost the space at City Hall, but continued as many activities as possible during this time. This included an area High School Show, which had started in 1988. It has continued to grow. Last year’s was the 25th show and included 9 schools. We had so many entries, it filled the gallery and classroom even though it was limited to 2 entries per student in each category. We have been fortunate in getting the funding for the prizes from area businesses and banks.
Since 1984, we had been looking for a permanent home for SouthWest Artists. Throughout the year, we evaluated at least thirty possibilities. At the end of our 2002 annual meeting, we went to see the last three. When we got to our present one, we all agreed that it was the best one thus far, and we should proceed with the purchase even though it needed a lot of work.
Many of the members helped with the scrubbing, painting and repairs until now we feel it is a very special place. We finished paying for it in 2005.
2002-2008 – In 2005, thanks to a 3 year grant from the Arkansas Arts Council, we were able to hire our first part-time Executive Director, Daniel Erwin. At the end of his year, Daniel decided to go back to school and Carolyn MacMahon was hired as a replacement. Following Carolyn MacMahon’s departure Jim Pawley was hired.
2007 – We added track lighting and are continuing to work toward making our space as inviting as possible so that we can show art work under the best conditions we can create. We also changed the name of the gallery to Mena Art Gallery in 2007.
True to its motto, “Art for all ages in the heart of the Ouachitas,” Mena Art Gallery continues to grow as a community-based arts organization open to all people with an interest in art regardless of their level of training.