OCEAN CITY — Three years after opening its sparkling new building at 94th Street, the Art League of Ocean City continues to thrive and expand its cultural contributions to the resort, Ocean City officials learned this week.
Art League of Ocean City Executive Director Rina Thaler this week briefed the Mayor and Council on the goings on at the organization’s Center for the Arts complex on 94th Street and all around the resort and throughout the region. The original Art League was founded over 50 years ago in 1963 by a handful of local artists looking for avenues to display their work.
In the five decades since, the Art League of Ocean City has grown to become the major driving force for art and culture in the resort. From modest beginnings when the original Art League was granted use of a small portion of City Hall, the organization moved and expanded several times over the decades. In 1984, the Art League took over a long-abandoned pool house on 94th Street and renovated the space and began showing exhibits and hosting classes.
The Art League made the best of the space at 94th Street for decades, but as the organization grew and the old pool house began outliving its useful life, the organization approached the city about making a permanent home at the 94th Street location. In 2011, events were set in motion to demolish the old pool house and create a new and permanent home for the Ocean City Art League.
After some creative fundraising and contributions from the town, Worcester County and the state, the sparkling new Ocean City Center for the Arts officially opened to rave reviews in 2013. In the roughly three years since, the new facility, and its vast network of artists, board members and volunteers have continued to thrive and expand the cultural offerings throughout the resort.
“We’re hearing nothing but praise for what we’ve been doing at 94th Street,” Thaler told the Mayor and Council on Monday. “I don’t think any of us realized just how vibrant this would become. Art is definitely a unifier and it has brought a lot of people together in this town.”
Thaler said the Center of the Arts has attracted around 50,000 visitors since opening in 2013 including 18,000 in 2015. The popular First Friday events each month routinely attract 200 to 250 visitors, many of whom enjoy the facility’s cultural offerings and then go out and enjoy the resort’s restaurants. The facility is open daily all year-round and has created a destination for the arts not only in Ocean City but throughout the region.
“It’s become a leader in the entire region,” she said. “We’ve been able to create something really special. People looking for something cultural in Ocean City are finding us. We’ve brought something unique to Ocean City and an upscale aesthetic to the resort.”
The Art League and its new facility at 94th Street has become a solid contributor to the arts and culture in Ocean City in so many ways. Art classes are offered to all age groups almost daily and the exhibits change often. For example, the current exhibit features works by artists inspired by local restaurants during the recent Restaurant Week.
Not all of the Art League’s activities are centered at the 94th Street facility. Exhibits are often on display at the Ocean City Convention Center, the Chamber of Commerce and the new Performing Arts Center, for example. The Art League is also deeply immersed in all facets of the community with plein air events throughout town and the annual Arts Alive festival. The Art League also hosts international students working in Ocean City for the summer and creates opportunities for cultural exchanges.
“Last year, we did a show featuring their photography,” said Thaler. “Those images of what they saw in Ocean City were incredible. It gave them a true cultural exchange.”
The Art League sustains its cultural offerings through creative fundraising and reinvests in the resort area. For example, a recent Empty Bowl project raised over $10,000 for the Diakonia shelter in West Ocean City. It’s biggest fundraiser of the year is the Sandcastle Home Tour, which is now entering its 12 year.
Thaler said the Art League’s work in the community has not gone unnoticed.
“Last year we were honored with the Community Foundation’s Richard Henson Award for non-profit excellence,” she said. “That says it all about what the Art League has become.”
The Mayor and Council have also taken notice of what the Art League and its new facility have become in three short years.
“One of the goals of the strategic plan is to make Ocean City a more livable community,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “One way to do that is through art, and what you’ve been able to do is incredible. I think you’ve accomplished what you set out to do, but knowing you, you’re never satisfied. It’s become a big part of Ocean City.”