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AAC executive director has big plans for 2020

Johnna Pope is the industrious executive director of the Ashland Art Center, a significant hub for visual arts in the Rogue Valley and home to some 50 visual artists, 20 of whom maintain studio spaces at the center.

I caught up with Pope, who, despite being deep in preparations for the center’s February First Friday, was able to spend some time talking about the past, present, and future of the center and about her own career.

JG: Tell us a bit about your background in art and how you came to be director of the Ashland Art Center.

JP: I’ve enjoyed making art for years and was an avid painter before I arrived at the Ashland Art Center. When I first moved here from the Midwest, I was inspired by the vast amount of professional artists in the Rogue Valley. I found my way to the Ashland Art Center and got a spot in studio 12 upstairs.

During my time there I absorbed as much knowledge and experience as I could from the many exceptional artists. I took masterclasses with a few of them as well and honed my craft as well as my relationships with the many great people at the AAC.

I soon moved from my space in studio 12 to the position of gallery manager where I acquired professional mentors who quickly led me into the role of Executive Director. Over the past two years as E.D. I have worked tirelessly to bridge social, financial, age, and diversity gaps in our art community to give everyone the opportunity to thrive as an artist.

JG: What has been the goal of the art center and its background?

JP: The Ashland Art Center was Founded in 2007. Since its inception, it has grown to include over 180 dues-paying members and occupying 9,000 square feet on the downtown business district.

The goal of the Ashland Art Center is to provide a space within the community for artists of all ages, experiences and backgrounds to come and develop their craft.

Seekers of the arts who come to the AAC are exposed to a vibrant collective of visual artists who inspire, teach, and learn from one another.

Because of our 501c3 nonprofit status, the Ashland Art Center provides resources to artists to help them gain exposure in the community and market their work. Through community grants, we have not only been able to help many artists achieve their professional goals, but also we have provided art outreach programs in our local schools to help enliven a diminishing subject.

JG: Tell us about the artists at the center and the community around it.

JP: I’ve often said that I wish that the community could see the Art Center through my eyes.

The artists here come from such varied backgrounds that it would surely astound many people. They are strong men and women who express their love, anger, grief, empathy, and imagination through their work, feelings that are often put aside in society.

These artists are brave enough to share these emotions with the community in a way that is visually enjoyable for everyone. My time at the AAC has resulted in countless close relationships with many of the artists here. I share such great connections with them that this has become not so much a job, but a chance to support the people I care about.

JG: What does the center have planned for 2020 that you might like to share with us?

JP: 2020 will be a big year for the Ashland Art Center. We are instituting new programs, boosting our vast education sector and structuring stronger community ties.

This year, the AAC has created a stronger outreach committee which will not only educate the schools on our programs but will also create bonds with the senior citizen community and veterans of our area. Providing art opportunities to those who would benefit most.

First Friday art walks at the Art Center have always been successful at bringing the community together over art, music, food and wine. This year we hope to expand on that success by providing additional programs during the first Friday celebrations such as live art demos, lectures, and displays from our community members.

We plan in 2020 to expand our gallery space to accommodate traveling artists, artists in residency, and an inspiring artists/youth gallery. We are constantly improving and developing ourselves as a staple resource for this community. To stay up to date with all our changes and events please check out our website at ashlandartcenter.org or follow us on social media.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a columnist, arts reviewer and cultural commentator. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com

Johnna Pope