As soon as renovations to the former Liberty County Division of Elections office are complete, the Hinesville Area Arts Council will have a new home.
In its meeting last week, the Liberty County Commission approved a three-year lease with the nonprofit arts group, which has been looking for a permanent home with an open floor plan since this spring.
“It’s my hope that we will be able to offer more classes and events,” council chairwoman Leah Poole said. “It also gives the community a space to showcase local art.”
The terms of the lease say that the council will pay for $13,600 in renovations to the facility in lieu of rent, an assumed rental rate of $7 per square foot.
Arts council members met Tuesday night to discuss the news and decide how to proceed with renovations, which should be complete within the next three months, Poole said.
Changes include overhauling some of the restrooms, installing new floors, adding drywall and widening doorways to make them handicap accessible. The group is working with many local contractors, who offered them deals, Poole said.
The group has been offering arts classes in the Mills House on the corner of Memorial Drive and Oglethorpe Highway since last year, but the home’s future has been uncertain since owners Jay and Joel Osteen donated the house to the Midway Museum last April.
“We cannot say enough about how much we appreciate the Osteens for letting us use that facility,” Poole said. “It did meet our needs when we first started, but we really have outgrown it.”
The group’s art teacher, Christina Mansfield, said the new facility will benefit the classes, which recently changed from being held multiple times per week to every other weekend.
“It’s a big house, but the rooms are small, and sometimes I would run back and forth between two rooms during one class,” she said. It also will give art students more room to work in and a more active, inspirational setting.
“Part of what I do is I allow people to paint what they see, so now the art classes can expand and do more things with the art and actually paint a scene,” she said.
“The whole downtown is eye candy — you have the beautiful pond, the coffee shop. It’s really nice to grab a coffee before you come to class or after.”
Mansfield’s classes usually draw 10-15 students, with some regular attendees and a wave of new ones. She teaches rotating topics, including pottery, jewelry making, photography and recycled and abstract art.
“If it wasn’t for the art, we wouldn’t know about the past,” she said. From hieroglyphs to period paintings, art has been a means for prior civilizations to record history and communicate ideas — and that drives the council’s mission.
One student, Barbara Meador Finster, said she believes the move will expand the art-class offerings, which draw her back because of their diversity.
“Christina’s just fantastic — she does any kind of artwork that I’ve seen or imagined,” she said. “In the middle of the class, if someone says ‘I want to learn pottery some time,’ then the next week we’re doing pottery.”
She also looks forward to having a more prominent exhibition space.
“When you do your work and you take it home, it’s nice for you and your family to see — but when you put it up and other people come to see it, it gives you ideas of other things you can do,” she said.
Once the group moves into the space, the members plan to hold a wine and cheese reception as well as local and traveling art exhibitions, Poole said.
Poole originally spoke with the board of commissioners about using the space in a June meeting, where she asked them to consider allowing the group to pay for renovations to the facility in lieu of rent.
Speaking on behalf of the BoC, County Administrator Joey Brown said he believes the lease is a testament to the board’s recognition and understanding of the vital role that arts play within the community, he said. He hopes the new, more visible facility will increase local awareness of arts.
“It’s definitely going to enhance downtown,” Mansfield said about the new home acting as a downtown point of interest.