Art Center keeps the old, welcomes the new
By Rachel Coleman
When Baker Arts Center director Adriane Hatcher arrived in Liberal last spring, she was ready for a change. She’d spent two years on the job at the Kansas Department of Transportation office in Syracuse, her hometown, but she wanted to find work that would make good use of her college degree — a bachelor’s of fine arts in photography. Yet she didn’t want to choose a career path that led away from her part of the state.
“I was looking for something in Southwest Kansas,” she said. “I know it and I like it, and I wanted to stay around here.”
Baker Arts, too, was in search of the right fit. Having functioned without a director for just shy of a year, the center needed a fresh vision to renew excitement in the community.
“Obviously, I’m a supporter of the arts, having majored in art,” Hatcher said, “and I really enjoy the fundraising part of this job.” That’s good, Hatcher noted, because “cultivating the community you’re a part of can be one of the hardest things about a job like this,” even in a friendly community that offered “an amazingly warm welcome” when Hatcher came to town.
Since Baker Arts Center’s inception, the nonprofit organization has relied on a mix of grant money and private donations to operate, built on a membership model. This presents a challenge, Hatcher said, in a community that has undergone a shift in its cultural makeup.
“The perception is there, among younger people, that the center is not as modern as they would like,” she said. “We’re also trying to think of ways to reach different demographics, especially the Spanish-speaking community. We want to reach out. But at the same time, we want to respect the donors who have made it what it is.”
And Baker Arts Center, located at 624 N. Pershing Ave. in Liberal, can be many different things. Nearly always, it is a space for traveling and local exhibits, from a National Geographic photo show about the Flint Hills of Kansas to a display of high school art from around the area. It’s also an educational center, with classes for children from preschool age to adults who want to try glassblowing or oil painting.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions in our board meetings about the differences between art and craft,” Hatcher said. There’s been talk of cake decorating classes, for example, and while colored frosting is far from three-dimensional art, “we want to listen to what people want to do.”
“I think we do have a big following for the fine arts here in the area, but there are a lot of people who are going to be turned off; they haven’t been around it and they’re scared of it. So it’s a learning process,” she said.
That’s why, sometimes, Baker Arts can also be a provider for the performing arts, hosting concerts and recitals and sponsoring children’s theater in area schools. As this year’s membership drive kicked off, Hatcher said the board had opted to tweak the traditional meal and garden tour and host a “Backyard Blast,” showcasing local talent in a contest format. The winner of the night’s performances will earn a spot at the Kansas State Fair.
“We wanted to do something really nice for our members, because I think people need to feel like their membership is getting them something,” Hatcher said. “So we’re serving free food and hosting free entertainment, and that gets new people to stop in and see what we have to offer, too.”
A tighter economy has affected the center’s grant funding from government and private sources, but the crunch has not yet affected membership numbers. Nonetheless, Hatcher, art director Diane Marsh and bookkeeper/office manager Toni Smith have looked for ways to trim costs. Hatcher draws the line at going online for the absolute lowest prices for supplies.
“I like to keep it local,” she said. “I can’t expect local businesses to support us if we aren’t doing the same, so I try to keep Baker’s money here in the community.”
Though it’s hard to predict how national trends and regional changes might affect Baker Arts Center, Hatcher said some things don’t change.
“Our French Market fundraiser (in November) and the Night of Lights (at Christmas), we’ll always keep those,” she said, “and we’ll always keep exhibits and openings. There’s a lot of stuff that’s always been done right, and we want it to continue.”