Salisbury Art Institute A Downtown Fixture For 61 Years

SALISBURY — As part of an ongoing effort to connect with community groups, the Salisbury City Council met with representatives from the Art Institute and Gallery (AIG) Monday.

AIG outlined the role that they have played in developing the city’s downtown for more than 60 years and gallery officials talked about how they see art growing in Salisbury with the help of the next generation.

“Our exact mission is to advance the visual arts in the Delmarva region through art exhibitions and education for children and adults,” said Andrea Gentry-Seidl, executive director of AIG. “We are going into our 61st year, so that is a major milestone.”

AIG’s roots in the community run deep. Keeping up with the growth of the city can be difficult, but the organization has an extensive volunteer base that logs about 5,000 volunteer hours a year. The gallery works with around 60 artists every year in their camps, exhibits and events.

The organization is a big supporter of Salisbury’s downtown, according to Gentry-Seidl, and it has been there through the area’s ebbs and flows. Currently, the downtown is experiencing a period of revitalization, she told the council.

“Since 1953, we have been a cornerstone with the downtown. We were always kind of the one that was right there with everything when things were going on,” said Gentry-Seidl. “So as we move forward we are especially excited about the renaissance that is happening and the wonderful ideas that are coming out for the downtown. We are excited to be a part of that.”

AIG hosts about 12 major exhibits every year downtown. The exhibits change during each of Salisbury’s 3rd Friday events and include everything from architecture to animation to shock art.  Connie Strott, a board member for AIG, talked about one exhibit that focused on art in tattoos. AIG caught some criticism for that from those who weren’t sure if that constituted art but things went much better than expected.

“Everyone thought this was going to be horrible, but the place was packed,” she said.

AIG isn’t afraid to try new things. In fact, Gentry-Seidl endeavors to welcome fresh ideas in whenever possible. The idea is that a shake-up every now and then keeps things from getting stale.

“We are finding that it is time to reach out to young families and also to the millennials that are coming forward,” she said. “They’re going to be our future. They’re the ones who will be sitting here 20 or 30 years from now.”

It is vital to make art available and approachable for young people, continued Gentry-Seidl. AIG hosts about a dozen art camps every summer with an emphasis of being open to at-risk kids.

Other parts of the country have cut art programs down to bare bones or eliminated them and the expectation is that the negative impact will be higher than anyone anticipated.

“If you want to see what happens when art isn’t there just watch Kansas,” Gentry-Seidl said. “Just recently, in the last six months, Kansas has dropped all art programs … all eyes are on them to see what a disaster that will be and we’re quite sure it will be.”

Council President Jake Day noted that the city has included thousands in grants to art projects and institutes in Salisbury in this year’s budget to help prevent such a scenario. While AIG is only receiving a “modest investment” this year, Day promised that the council is committed to working with the group in the years ahead to expand art in Salisbury. The Mayor and Council have also increased their support of the 3rd Friday events for next year.

“So we continue to provide the investment in downtown and help the heart of our city become a little bit healthier,” he said.