The new Van Buren art center will present an exhibition

The front of the brick facade is dotted with windows that span almost the full height of the building. Peering through these windows, passers-by see an elegant interior. Inside is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to community artwork.

Arts on Main, formerly known as the Center for Art and Education, is set to open its gallery to the public in a festive event from 1-4 p.m. Sunday.

The gallery presents four inaugural exhibitions: pastels by Charles Peer, photographs by Michael Leonard, an art installation by Jeannie Hulen as well as works from two private collections.

“Our goal here is to teach. We’re an arts education institution, and the exhibits we put on all have an educational element,” Chief Executive Jane Owen said.

Hulen’s art installation is a ceramic piece that contains plastic that would otherwise reside in a landfill.

“It’s basically a statement about how we as citizens treat our environment,” Owen said.

Work loaned to the gallery from private collections includes pieces ranging from Realist Expressionism to abstraction and photography. The exhibition also represents different mediums of art.

The quality of the art is on par with what people would see at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Owen said.

It’s “going to be a one-of-a-kind exhibit,” Owen said.

Peer’s work is titled “Familiar Places” and many of the paintings feature places around Van Buren. Peer grew up in the city and remembers the establishment of the Center for Art and Education in 1976.

“It’s kind of come full circle,” Peer said of his work with Arts on Main.

Leonard’s work documented the Arts on Main building prior to its renovation. The building is made up of two adjacent structures. One was built in the early 1900s as a post office. The other is a two-story building built in the late 1800s. The upper floor served as a hotel, while the ground floor was dedicated to Van Buren merchants, said Rusty Myers, vice president of the Arts on Main Board of Directors.

Today, the buildings have been redeveloped into an art haven for the city of Van Buren.

“It’s basically new buildings built around and using the old structures,” Myers said.

Along with the renovated structures, workers constructed an additional building behind the center. It has a multipurpose room that can be used for large events and also a space dedicated to ceramic work. The area is home to 12 pottery wheels and two kilns, Owen said.

After the exhibition opens on Sunday, the gallery will be open six days a week, closing only on Tuesdays. Visitors can visit from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday when the gallery is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Arts on Main will be fully open to the public on March 12. After that, people will be able to take any of the art classes, which are designed for people of all ages and skill levels.

“My goal is for this place to become a place that our community and surrounding communities can enjoy,” Owen said.

In total, the center is about 20,000 square feet, Myers said. It is an upgrade of the old church where the center used to be. It was about 3,600 square feet.

“We’ve outgrown the space we were in,” Owen said.

The journey to the new facility began when a donor volunteered to purchase the center buildings.

Fundraising for the approximately $8 million facility began in 2018, and construction began in 2019.

Arts on Main’s money came from the community and also from the Windgate Foundation. Donations from community members ranged from $10 to $500,000. At all levels, people were on board to see the project come to fruition, Owen said.

“The installation far exceeds my wildest imagination,” Owen said.

The center includes the gallery, the classrooms, the culinary space, a ceramic workshop and a library.

Alex Gladden graduated from the University of Arkansas. She previously worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Jonesboro Sun before joining The Times Record. She can be contacted at

William E. Bennett