Submitted by Cortez Copher. DAR
During the James K. Polk NSDAR Chapter meeting March 25, Henry Moreno enlightened the members about the Mena Art Gallery and Southwest Artists. Henry is an active member of both the Mena Art Gallery and Southwest Artists, Inc. He has been a long-time member of the American Watercolor Society, a Juried Member of Oil Painters of America, and a past President Elect and Signature Member of the North Carolina Watercolor Society. In 1991, when Henry retired from IBM in North Carolina, he set up his own studio and began painting in earnest. He has been a full-time professional artist for nearly 30 years, starting with portraits and graduating to other commissioned works as well. He and his wife, JoAnn, moved to Mena in 2008 where she became a member of the James K. Polk NSDAR Chapter. The following is a copy of his presentation.
SWA Celebrating 76 Years
“Many things and many people contribute to making Mena a special place. In 2021 Southwest Artists will celebrate its 76th year of contribution to making this part of Arkansas unique. It began in 1945 when Artists and Artisans living in Southwest Arkansas began getting together to paint and bring beauty back into their lives after the ugliness and brutality of World War II. They met in each others homes and shared their lives and their visions of a brighter future. They created art that comforted and inspired. In 1960 one of the members started Lavora Painting Workshops in Old Potter and they began meeting there. They named themselves Southwest Artists because they came from several different towns in the southwest corner of Arkansas.
The Southwest Artists embraced all forms of art and crafts. Its membership continued to grow and they incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1982. Lucy Mulcahy became the first President of SWA Inc. Without a permanent home, they moved from place to place, holding shows and displaying art in space provided by our Banks, Railroad Depot, Businesses and Restaurants.
A building fund was started in 1984 and SWA’s Mena Art Gallery became a reality during Lucy’s lifetime. When Lucy died she remembered SWA in her will. Without the support of the community and volunteers like Lucy and the support of generations that followed her, we would not have the Art Gallery, The Ouachita Little Theater or The Historic Railroad Depot that are the foundation of Mena’s blossoming Downtown Art district.
Ten years ago the US economy was suffering, manufacturing Companies and jobs were going overseas. Parents with school age children couldn’t find good paying jobs in Mena and were moving elsewhere, our schools were losing students year after year. Our children and grand children were moving away from us. Downtown Mena was struggling. Businesses were closing on Mena Street. Store fronts were empty and shabby buildings were vacant for long periods, many were for sale at very depressed prices. Demographics of our population changed, our middle class working families diminished, and were being replaced with senior citizens and retirees.
Concerned citizens formed Economic Development groups, but some in the entrenched establishment fought against change fearing it would hurt their business or bring evil forces to our community, forgetting that the only constant in life is change. Evil only prevails when good people do nothing and don’t harness change. But, thanks to the contributions of the many who want to make Mena a desirable place to visit and live, positive changes, in the way our town looks and what it offers to newcomers, are taking place.
The Mena Art Gallery has expanded what it offers to achieve that goal. It now conducts two National Art Competitions with Artist Entries that bring money into our community from the entire USA. Despite the current Pandemic these National Competitions are continuing to flourish and sales of work have increased. These shows bring World Class Art to our region and are self funding; the entry fees pay for conducting the competitions and their exhibitions. The exhibitions of world class art attract tourists to Mena who stay in our motels, eat in our restaurants and spend money shopping. These increase employment so that more of our children can remain here in Mena. In addition, the national shows are beginning to help cover the expense of running the gallery and the free local programs it provides. The local programs support artists and artisans of all ages and mediums.
In 2021 we are planning ways to continue this trend towards self funding. But we still need members and supporters to help fund and run the local programs. In January we kicked off our annual Membership drive with a goal of recovering our membership renewals and increase new memberships. You don’t need to be an artist to be a supporter of the gallery. For 75 years the Mena Art Gallery has been supported by retirees with work experience and skills. Like Lucy, many of these Retirees volunteered and made SWA and the Mena Art Gallery a landmark. There are too many of these role models to list here, but without them there would be no foundation for the rebirth of Downtown Mena. Many of these mentors have moved on. More than ever SWA needs retirees with career skills if we are to increase our contribution to positive growth and become more self funded.
If you are an artist, art appreciator or have career skills in administration, advertisement, building maintenance, marketing, fund raising, human relations or program management and want to make a difference, we need you to become part of the 4th generation of the SWA Mena Art Gallery family. You will make a positive difference and develop life long relationships and enjoy that sense of accomplishment that comes from creating value.
To become a part of this legacy go online to Southwestartists.org and click on Membership in the upper right corner of the screen or call the Mena Art Gallery at 479 394 3880 and speak to Lynn Greenwade for more information. Lynn is the Executive Director and one of the retirees who came to us with terrific career and people skills. “