Denise Baxter, who runs the Ashland Artisan Gallery & Art Center in a cramped 900-square-foot space at 163 E. Main St., would like to transform the empty Provost building just up the street into an art center with a gallery, working studios, community classrooms and space where artists could learn about the business of art.

The public is invited to an open house to tour the inside of a downtown building that local artist Denise Baxter hopes to transform into a nonprofit art center.

The open house is scheduled from 3 to 8 p.m. on Friday in the Provost building, 357 E. Main St. It will include family-friendly art projects.

Baxter 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 into an art center with a gallery, working studios, community classrooms and space where artists could learn about the business of art. The 9,000-square-foot building once housed the Ancient of Days' Gallery, which sold antiques.

Baxter envisions professional artists as well as the general public creating art at the center.

"You can walk off the street with your grandchild and make pottery," Baxter said.

Working with architect Matt Small and developer Ed Bemis, she recently secured permits from the city that will allow her to remodel the building. Changes would include new bathrooms and making the building wheelchair accessible.

Baxter hopes to raise $150,000 in community donations and $100,000 in grants in order to get the art center open and running. She also is seeking in-kind donations of services and items for the center.

ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum already has donated a kiln, she said.

Whether Baxter can raise enough money in today's economic climate remains an open question.

"That's one of the biggest questions people are asking. Why are we doing this at this time? I don't think we'd have an opportunity to occupy a space on Main Street at any other time," she said.

Baxter said nonprofit art centers like the one she envisions can have a tremendous positive economic impact on communities.

The building's owner, Greg Provost, is donating use of the space for two months so that Baxter can hold events, she said.

In addition to the open house Friday, the building will open for a Toyland display of children's art and adults' toy-themed sculptures from 3 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 17 and from 3 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 18.

There will be a Toyland reception and auction from 5 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 19, featuring family-friendly art projects, refreshments, live music and silent and live auctions.

Baxter will be working with elementary school children to make the kids' art. That art will not be for sale.

The toy-themed sculptures made by adults will be auctioned off. An adult who submits a toy sculpture can choose to donate all of the auction sale amount for the art center or keep up to 40 percent of the amount.

Adult artists must be members of Baxter's Ashland Gallery & Art Center at 163 E. Main St. to submit toy sculptures. Non-members can join by paying a reduced annual fee of $35 and submitting a sculpture. The annual fee is normally $50.

For more information on joining, contact Catie Faryl at 535-1854 or catiefaryl@hotmail.com.

Members of the art center are invited to a private event in the Provost building with guided tours, refreshments and a discussion about the art center from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, the night of the public open house.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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