COMMUNITY GEMS: Arts leader expands reach in community

Executive Director Michelle Buckley aims “to provide affordable art to everyone in our community”

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Preble County residents can drive to Dayton or Richmond for the arts, but they may not have to.

What they are looking for may be even closer, according to Michelle Buckley, the executive director of Preble Arts, a nonprofit organization based in Eaton.

“I’d say it’s definitely unusual for a community this size to have something as wonderful as Preble Arts,” she said.

Under Buckley’s direction, the organization has more than tripled its membership and supported new initiatives, said Claudia Hawkins, assistant director of Preble Arts.

“Our organization and our community in general has made a huge shift since she became executive director,” said Hawkins, who nominated Buckley as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

Hawkins said she used to hear people say they didn’t know Preble Arts existed. Now she hears others talk about how they love going there. Classes are filling up and people are taking advantage of the organization’s offerings.

“She has been great at coming up with good ideas to expand our reach and help the people in our community,” Hawkins said.

The organization was founded in 1987 as the Preble County Art Association, and Buckley was named the executive director in September after serving as a board member and volunteer. Preble Arts offers a wide range of classes and activities, including painting and photography clubs; flute, violin, guitar and piano lessons; paint-your-own pottery; and programs for teens and youth.

“Our mission is to provide affordable art to everyone in our community,” Buckley said.

The organization also offers a gallery where local artists can place their items for sale. And this year, Preble Arts launched a Summer Food and Art Market, held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday from May to August. With food trucks in the parking lot, local artists who are Preble Arts members will be selling their goods on the sidewalk.

“Almost like a farmers market, but for art,” said Buckley, 42, who lives outside of Eaton.

Also new this summer is the city’s first selfie mural, she said – huge butterfly wings welcoming visitors to downtown Eaton.

Buckley has been a professional photographer for 25 years, interested in the concept of creating and capturing memories. Others now explore their own artistic interests at the organization’s location at 207 E. Main St., which has a darkroom, ceramics studio, woodburning and stained-glass tools, studios and more.

Thousands of individuals have participated in Preble Arts activities, and Buckley said that memberships have increased from 58 last year to more than 200 today.

Hawkins said that visitors to Preble Arts aren’t coming to a normal business. Instead, they come for an activity that will inspire them – and maybe even change their lives. She pointed to Buckley’s efforts to develop projects for underserved groups as well as the organization’s mental health support program, in which visitors can release stress while creating something beautiful.

Nobody is turned away, Hawkins said, and Buckley has expanded the organization’s reach.

“She’s been working so hard to make our community feel involved in the art scene,” Hawkins said.

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