A Brief History of the London Visual Arts Guild
Early in 2007, the Methodist Church formed an outreach program called “Visions of Hope” to give a boost to single mothers by providing temporary housing and support for the first six months, helping them get on their feet. The church was given the use of the Murrey building on the corner of High and Main streets next to McDonald’s. The store fronts were in bad shape and funds were limited. Since the church was only using the apartments upstairs, they needed another source to fix up and occupy the street level sections.
Kim Lattimer-Reeder, a member of the Methodist Church and the Artists of Madison County suggested to pastor Steve that the store fronts might be useful as an Art Gallery. The seed was planted! Kim contacted Bob Rea, Jim Keen and several other members of the Artists of Madison County. After much debate, a new group was formed called the London Visual Arts Guild (LVAG). This group was intent on establishing the arts and art education in London and Madison County. The group began dismantling store fronts and rebuilding them into what was to be called Gallery on High and Studio 7. The gallery was completed first and in 2009, shows were scheduled. The first was the students of Matco, followed by the first Members’ show. Since its inception, well over a hundred and twenty shows and exhibits have been displayed at the gallery.
Studio 7 was completed in 2011 and since that time, a multitude of classes have been held for both adults and children. Classes have also been offered at other sites including the Madison Correctional Institution. Harry Croghan, a founding member of the LVAG, has offered classes at the prison. Liz Lassel, a fiber artist, has been leading a quilting and sewing group at the prison and established an exhibit at the gallery in 2018 of their quilted works. Harry and Liz have both been instrumental in valued community projects with Matco and the Madison County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
In the beginning, the London Visual Arts Guild operated under the umbrella of Visions of Hope. When they disbanded that organization in 2010, the Guild then applied for its own 501c 3 status which was awarded in 2014.
In 2016 the LVAG partnered with the Madison County Historical Society and put on a Bluegrass Benefit concert featuring the group Strung Up. This venture was very successful and the collaboration went on the three more years.
The unfortunate and untimely death of founding member Jim Keen in 2016 was a sad time for all. But the generosity of Jim’s family led to his memorial funds being given to the LVAG and we were able to offer a free Art Camp for multiple children in 2017. May of 2017 dealt another hard blow to the LVAG family with the death of founding member Kim Lattimer-Reeder’s son, Kurt Lattimer. Kurt was an extremely talented 27 year old artist. He had been working on the mural on Mick Harris’s building on High Street. Mick is a former board member of the LVAG and he and his wife Natalie wanted to do something significant in Kurt’s memory. They created the Kurt Lattimer Aspiring Artist Award (KLAAA) and offered a $1000 award to senior high school students from Madison County. This has continued for four years now.
In the spring of 2018, the Murrey building, which had been owned by Bob Miner and family, was sold to a California real estate company with the intent to “flip” it and quickly resell it. This resulted in a substantial rent increase and the LVAG began looking for alternative locations to rent. Most of the storefronts downtown were too expensive for the modest nonprofit organization to handle, so the LVAG board checked with the city to see if they knew of any place suitable to support the arts and education. The old Vo-Ag building by the school was brought up. The building had been vacant for several years. It was quite a bit larger than the two storefronts we occupied on High Street and offered more space for classes, events and a gallery, plus much more parking space! Rehab on the building was set to being in October after the city replaced the roof and heating system. With the help of Ned and Barb Neely, and many others, a benefit was planned because we were in need of significant funds for this venture. There was a lot of excitement about the move and the benefit was a success.
Tony Reeder volunteered to be project manager and the demolition began! The heat did not get installed until January of 2020. Some painting was done before winter brought bone chilling cold. A few space heaters were brought but it was still too cold to work on much. Then COVID reared its ugly head and it was lockdown time for nearly everyone. People were hospitalized, and some were put on ventilators, never to see their families again. There were so many restrictions on businesses and people started panicking and hoarding toilet paper. Because of all the problems we were unable to get plumbing issues resolved. We were forced to cancel our advertised “New Beginnings” show scheduled for May 2020. There seemed to be one road block after another. But with the hard work and dedication of Tony, along with Steve Hume on Wednesday nights, and Colleen VanSteen, Liz Lassel, Pam Stanforth and other directors and members working during the day cleaning, shoveling, patching and painting, progress was made.
After a rough year of her own, President Liz Lassel worked on securing grants from Stanley Electric, the Ohio Arts Council, WalMart, Dela Selsor and others, which helped tremendously to keep the LVAG afloat and moving forward.
Treasurer Kimba Burdette held Art on the Lawn every Saturday through the summer to help let people know we were still there and planning to open as soon as possible. Classes were put on hold until COVID restrictions were lifted.
Alas, after all the frustrations of construction, delays, and COVID, we opened with out first show “Changing Horizons” in May and June of 2021. We want everyone to come out and see the beautiful new London Arts Center at 121 E First Street. You will be delighted and amazed!
-Sondra Fox, LVAG Vice President