Art gallery, apartments designed to lift people up

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Alice Seyfried, president of the London Visual Arts Guild, stands amidst artwork hanging on the walls at the new Gallery On High in London. The gallery is one of two new ministries started by First United Methodist Church in London. The other is Lift Up On High, apartments above the  East High Street gallery for use by single women with children.

After some collective soul-searching, the congregation at First United Methodist Church in London found a new mission outside its walls.

The result is Visions of Hope, which serves as the umbrella for two community projects housed in the old Murray building in the first block of East High Street. The first is Lift Up On High, a set of three apartments for single women with families. The second is Gallery On High, an art gallery and creative outreach for people of all skill levels and interests.

“We got the idea when we asked ourselves, ‘Who are we in this community and what are we called to do as a community of faith?’ ” said Sue McClelland, associate pastor at First United Methodist. The church’s pastor is Steve Rodgers.

Part of the answer came from the knowledge that London has a large need for housing for people who are short on money. The other part came from a desire to nurture creativity.

Church members Dick Minner and his son, Bob Minner, own the Murray building. They offered its use to the church for what McClelland said is a “more than fair price.”  People in the community donated carpet and furniture, and nearly three dozen parishioners leant a hand with the labor. Additionally, a former parishioner bequeathed $20,000 to the church for community projects; the money has been used to get the building into shape for tenants and artists.

Lift Up On High
Two of the three upper-story apartments that make up Lift Up On High are occupied. Renovation of the third is nearly complete.

The apartments are open to single women with children who need help getting back on their feet. Caseworkers, guidance counselors, social workers and others make referrals to the church, which, in turn, interviews prospective tenants. Tenants can live in the apartments for up to three years.

If a tenant has a job, she pays a small percentage of her income as rent, usually less than $100 per month, said McClelland who serves as the family advocate for Lift Up On High. If a tenant does not have a job, she can live in the apartment rent-free as long as she is actively looking for a job. McClelland helps tenants to find jobs.

“We’re trying to give people a situation where they can start putting money back so that they can get back on their feet and be able to rent a place of their own,” she said.

Rental agreements for Lift Up On High, which McClelland refers to as “covenants,” go beyond financial guidelines. They also require tenants to become part of a micro-community made up of fellow renters and church support personnel.

Tenants get together for monthly dinners, share laundry facilities, participate in group activities, sit down with experts who teach them about nutrition, parenting and other life skills, and soon will have a television and computer room to share. The church also assigns at least two mentors to each renter to act as helpers and friends.

“This is so that when they leave Lift Up On High, they know they have friends and people who support them,” McClelland said.

For more information about the apartments, call the church at 740-852-0462.

Gallery On High
“A lot of times, people think churches only do religious stuff,” McClelland said, adding that as part of a larger community, churches can enhance people’s quality of life in other ways.

One such way is by giving people a place to display and explore their artistic sides. To that end, First United Methodist has opened the lower floors of 5 and 7 E. High St. as an art gallery.

With some elbow grease, the spaces were spruced up into a gallery and work area. The first exhibition featured the artwork of people with disabilities from around Ohio. The current exhibit, “Tiny Treasures: Smaller Pieces for Smaller Budgets,” features art by members of the London Visual Arts Guild.

The church has put the gallery’s operation in the hands of the guild, a new group with an arms-open-wide approach.

“The guild was formed to be more of a community organization that offers classes and seminars and to bring the arts into the community,” said Alice Seyfried, a London resident, artist and president of the guild. “It’s not to be something just for professionals. It’s for everybody, including kids.”

The guild already has attracted nearly 30 people with an array of interests, from painting and photography to wood-turning and quilting. The plan is to organize classes and regularly rotate exhibits of local residents’ art, some of which will be for sale.

“For a small community, London is very blessed with many people who are artists,” McClelland said.

In addition to Seyfried, London Visual Arts Guild’s board of directors includes: Bob Rea, vice president; Jim Keen, treasurer; and Cristal Baldwin, Marjorie Foulk, Sandy Fox and Kimberly Lattimer, directors.

The guild meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the gallery. The gallery is open to visitors from 2 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, 5 to 8 p.m. on Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

For more information about upcoming classes or guild membership, which is $25 per year, check out the guild’s Web site at www.londonvisualartsguild.org, send e-mail to lvag.info@gmail.com, or call 740-852-7665.

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