Almost five years have passed since the Ashland School District was forced to close down Briscoe Elementary. And what easily could have become a boarded-up, vacant building has instead blossomed into a vibrant, thriving collective for local artists and a boon to the school system.

The Briscoe Art Wing, created by the Lithia Arts Guild in late 2004, is host to a variety of artists &

acrylic painters, musicians, weavers, hatters and visual artists.

The art wing serves many purposes, but each is tied to creating a sustainable solution with regard to taking care of the public space that is the former elementary school, according to David Scoggin, who teaches piano in his portion of the space.

"The original idea was to provide reasonably priced rent to artists for studio space," Scoggin said. "The way it's worked out is that, as a part of our contract with the school district, we provide a certain amount of arts instruction to the schools every year. Because of that and the way we are as artists, it has become a force for education in the community, not just for kids, but for adults as well."

The occupants of the Art Wing pay $630 per month for each of the six former classrooms. The cost includes utilities and is split up to six ways, depending on the number of artists in a room.

This money accounts for 65 percent of the total rent paid to the district. In addition, the collective provides the school district with 270 hours per year as 20 percent of the building's rent. Of course, this number is only a suggestion, according to Scoggin; members actually provided 373 hours in 2007.

The final 15 percent of the rent is paid through proceeds from the art wing's many fund-raisers. The most prominent, the Midsummer's Dream festival in June, has attracted thousands of music and arts lovers to Ashland over the past three years. A portion of the earnings from each booth at the festival is donated to the art wing, which in turn gives it to the school district for art supplies and books.

In the past, the Ashland Schools Foundation has been able to provide funds for the supplies utilized in Catalyst, an alternative education program that works with at-risk youth within the Ashland school system.

Because Catalyst is designed, in essence, to prevent kids in high school from dropping out, the experience working with creative imagination can be both fun and life changing, both for the children and the artists.

"I love the opportunity to spend time with my community," said Lisa Vanderzwan, a photographer whose studio is at Briscoe. "I enjoy working with the Catalyst kids and some of the other special needs kids. It's great to see their faces light up when they are creating something. For me, Briscoe is about connecting."

As members of the Gallery Association, the Briscoe Art Wing displays art during every First Friday Art Walk in Ashland. The biggest First Fridays, however, take place quarterly, in March, June, September and December, and feature local bands, such as the 25-piece Ashland Middle School Band and the Walker Elementary Rock Band.