Where most people see a large vacant building, Denise Baxter sees a thriving art center in Ashland's downtown.

Where most people see a large vacant building, Denise Baxter sees a thriving art center in Ashland's downtown.

Baxter now runs the Ashland Artisan Gallery & Art Center in a cramped 900-square-foot space at 163 E. Main St.

She would like to transform the empty Provost building just up the street at 357 E. Main St. into an art center with a gallery, working studios, community classrooms and space where artists could learn about the business of art.

Located across the street from Pasta Piatti, the building with a Tudor facade boasts 9,000 square feet with a basement and two above-ground floors. It once housed the Ancient of Days' Gallery, which sold antiques.

"It would be a real connection between artists and the community," said Baxter on a recent tour of the building.

She would like to tear out the old carpet to reveal hardwood floors, repaint the interior and add more bathrooms.

Transforming the building's interior and first-year operation costs for the art center would cost $250,000, Baxter said.

Lisa James of James Consulting — who worked on fundraising for Southern Oregon University's Center for the Visual Arts — has joined the project to serve as the capital campaign leader.

Baxter has also enlisted Matt Small of Kistler, Small and White Architects to help with the remodeling project, which would need approval from the city of Ashland.

The small space where Baxter now has a gallery and art center has already attracted 125 members. Some show at the gallery, while others exhibit their work at one of 10 venues outside the gallery, like Ashland Community Hospital.

Baxter and other artists hold classes at the front of the small gallery, surrounded on all sides by paintings and sculptures.

She said Ashland is filled with artists. Baxter estimates there are about 3,000 in the area, but probably only about 600 are represented by local galleries.

"When I first opened my gallery, I couldn't believe the number of people who came in and asked to show — two or three a day," she said.

That prompted her to create a tiered system for her own gallery, where some artists exhibit in the gallery itself while most others show in places like the hospital that Baxter has identified around town.

Each participating artist pays a $50 annual membership fee. They get support to understand and run the business side of their artistic career. For example, every member gets a Web site devoted to his or her art, Baxter said.

"We'll accept artists until we've got hundreds. The more, the stronger we are," she said.

With a Master's degree in business administration and another Master's degree in international management, Baxter sees a big art center in the Provost building as vital to tying together the disparate aspects of the art scene.

A gallery could occupy the front part of the ground floor, with a different art-oriented business taking up the middle. Classrooms where artists and community members could learn about marketing and other topics would fill the back.

The basement would have workshops for silk printing and screening, stained glass, jewelry, ceramics and other forms. Community members could pay a fee to use the workshops and make their own art.

Up to a dozen artists' studios could occupy the top floor, which has views of Grizzly Peak and the Trinity Episcopal Church steeple to the north and a bank of light-filled windows on the south side.

Baxter's current small gallery and art center won nonprofit organization status in 2007. She would like the large art center to operate as a nonprofit as well, but one that would eventually support itself after the first year through grants, fundraising, business sponsorships, studio rentals, gallery art sales, class fees and rental income from a business inside the center like an art supply store or Web site design company.

To help raise money, the existing Ashland Artisan Gallery & Art Center at 163 E. Main St. will host a fundraising raffle. People can purchase one raffle ticket for $5 or five tickets for $20 at the gallery. Raffle tickets will be drawn throughout the evening from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the gallery, where winners can choose artwork from a table stacked with donated paintings, photography, sculpture, stained glass and jewelry.

The evening will also feature wine from Weisinger's of Ashland.

Baxter will set aside artwork for people who would like to buy raffle tickets but can't attend Friday night's event.

For more information, call the Ashland Artisan Gallery & Art Center at 488-5698.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com. To post a comment, visit www.dailytidings.com.