Indian Rocks Beach Art Center

Beach Arts Center President Margie Meier-Belt thanks IRB City Manager Gregg Mims for the city’s donation to the Arts Center fundraising drive. Looking on are Vice-president Barbara Parker, left, and Treasurer Ed Hoofnagle, right. The city of Indian Rocks Beach was the first donor to the fund-raising drive with a donation of $3,000.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – For decades, the Beach Art Center next to City Hall has been in operation in the city. It is such a fixture that perhaps many take it for granted, as though it will always be there.

In recent times board members of the Art Center aren’t so sure of its future and are ready to launch a campaign that may make or break the facility.

Margie Meier-Belt is the president of the center, and she said the operation is in jeopardy.

“About a year ago we really had come to a point that we wondered if we could carry on for much longer,” she said. “We’ve been going on for 40 years and managed to keep going but we realized that we had to change the way we do business.”

Meier-Belt said expansion is the way they see to keep the operation alive, and expansion can only happen through new membership.

“We have to get younger,” she said. “People get older and they move on, people drift away. We’ve had financial difficulties so we have to improve our membership base.”

For Meier-Belt people are at the center of everything the center stands for.

“We have to bring in new people, new people mean new talent, new interests,” she said. “At the same time we want to maintain the smallness of our organization, we don’t want to outgrow and become anonymous.”

Part of attracting new people, and keeping current members, is bringing the building up to code and safe.

The treasurer of the board is City Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle. He said improvements have already begun.

“We just did some outside work and now we have to tackle the infrastructure to bring things up to code from the 1970’s,” he said. “We’re talking about commercial grade windows and doors and tie down straps for the roof rafters.”

Because they want to save the metal roof and the rafters that are in place, adding the tie downs means cutting holes, putting the straps in and patching the holes. That job plus the windows, doors and insulation will cost $125,000.

Hoofnagle said it may be expensive but it is necessary.

“Safety is an issue,” he said. “We have to do it to be ready to face the environmental challenges that seem to be cropping up all the time. The building is not meant to withstand 125 mile-an-hour winds.”

To get the money Hoofnagle and the Art Center Board will begin a fund-raising campaign which will go on throughout the year. He said a gala event is planned for February to elicit larger donations.

“As well board members will be reaching out and explaining the need and get people to help so we can operate for the next 25 years,” he said.

Meier-Belt said she hopes that once that work is complete her dream of expanding the programs offered by the center can happen.

“We’re trying to find ways to bring people closer to art,” she said. “We have to expand our programs so we have not just painting or pottery but jewelry and decorative glass and so on.”

“We’re also trying to bring in children’s programs,” she said. “Up to now our programs have been mostly adult oriented. We feel there are a lot of people who want their children involved in the arts and not always on their I-pads.”

Meier-Belt hopes that recent changes at the Beach Art Center, 1515 Bay Palm Blvd., have changed the culture of the place somewhat.

“When I walked in here in 2011 I felt isolated,” she said. “Nobody was there looking around and there was poor information. It was like walking into a self-serve supermarket, ‘help yourself.’”

Eventually she said she was made to feel welcome after she had enrolled in a class and she hopes that is the norm these days.

“Now if anybody walks in we try to welcome them and I think we’ve gained quite a bit of interest.”

Meier-Belt would also like to see some empty space behind the center be developed into a larger pottery studio with a new kiln and storage space. That can only happen with a successful fund-raising drive.

Ironically, Hoofnagle, the man behind the fund-raising drive, didn’t get involved because of a great personal love of the arts or because of great artistic talent. He has other reasons for wanting the Beach Art Center to be a success.

“I don’t really have any art talent,” he said. “I really want the Art Center because it adds so much to the community. I got involved because it is my passion that my city has these sorts of places to make it a better place to live.”