There is a stir in the air, a feeling of unexpected joy mixed with hope in downtown Muncie, Indiana, my hometown.
This Friday evening many young artists and art enthusiasts gathered in the front gallery at Art and Soul by Phoebe. There was barely any wiggle room, and the nervous tension was palpable as striking young artists milled about. Brimming with talent and a keen sense of "self" so unusual for their age, about a dozen high school seniors from each corner of Delaware county with their fan base in tow had arrived to learn the results of a scholarship art contest.
Before the results were announced, owner Mrs. Phoebe Wantz, stood in the center of the room to tell the story of her gallery. Phoebe is a many layered creature. The more you find out about her the more incredible she seems. I met her just a month ago and am already so impressed with her caring heart and her artistic flair, her seemingly endless talents and her spunky energy.
She began her story with glowing words of how her father had been an important and treasured influence in her life. She explained why she had dedicated her new gallery to her father's memory and how she would like her gallery to expand and evolve in the years to come.
Phoebe's concern for the gallery to be a success is driven by her all-consuming focus. Phoebe is not about making extravagant amounts of money for herself–No! She completely throws herself into the business of making the gallery a success with another goal in mind. Above all else she wants her gallery to be a place to display the work of young artists in our area. She is all about encouraging and coming along side these artists as they make their entrance into the business end of the world of art. Phoebe's motto is "Artists First!" If you spend any time with her at the gallery you will be convinced, as I am, that her own dream is one of helping others achieve their dreams. She is living each and every day with her ideals driving her practices, a poster child for the "pay it forward" concept.
Phoebe introduced the judge of the contest, Mr. Jim Faulkner, a famous watercolor artist who hails from Yorktown. Phoebe had chosen Jim to be the judge of this contest as a way of honoring the friendship between her father and Mr. Faulkner. With a sparkle in her bright eyes, Phoebe spoke of how Jim had been there for her father many times over the years, even helping him try to train one particularly cantankerous canine.
Mr. Faulkner, tall, lanky, ruggedly handsome with kind eyes and a laidback sort of wisdom, addressed the young artists. He told them that the work of this group was of very good quality, and then he encouraged the students to look at each contest they enter as more than a chance to win. He explained that if they win a contest they should not be too quick to conclude that they were the best. At the same time, if they don't win, they should not let the loss bring them down since the results of any contest should be thought of as just one person's opinion at one point in time.
There was a hushed anticipation as Mr. Michael DuQuette, the gallery's artistic director and curator, read the names of each of the awardees. The first-place winner, Malia Allen from Daleville High School, was awarded a $500 scholarship. Phoebe plans to continue this practice of giving scholarships, and it is her hope is that the number of participants and excitement will increase over the coming years.
Ribbons were placed beside the paintings, and photos were taken of the young artists and their work. A sense of wonder and accomplishment, a shudder of uncertainty, a father looking on with pride from afar, the spark of possibility sizzling in the air...Art and Soul, it all started with Phoebe, an artist with a dream and a heart of gold.