Webster Arts, located in the heart of Webster Groves, is a nonprofit organization that welcomes artists from all over the country and all walks of life and gives them the opportunity to showcase their paintings, sculptures, poetry, music and much more year-round.
“We believe that engagement in the arts can enable a community to think more creatively, solve problems with empathy and foster a deeper understanding of humankind,” Jenny Donaldson, executive director of Webster Arts, said.
Originally founded as the Webster Community Foundation, it evolved from a volunteer social service group at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in 2001 to an organization committed to the arts. The group sponsored its first art fair, Art & Air, in 2003, which featured 90 artists. Two years later, Art & Air grew to attract 10,000 fairgoers and 120 artists from across the country. By 2015, the art fair was consistently attracting crowds of approximately 20,000 every year, and the organization officially changed its name to Webster Arts.
Despite its reach beyond Webster Groves, the organization remains grounded in creating community in Webster. Through the years, Webster Arts has continued to expand its diverse, family-friendly offerings to include unique opportunities for artists and creative types. A food carving competition gave participants a chance to create sculptures from food. Another event invited families to paint portraits of their pets. There was also an event where guests played bingo with artwork.
“One year, we had an event where we took 20 pieces of artwork with signs that said, ‘This is for you,’ and spread them throughout the community,” Donaldson said. “When we went back to check, every piece of artwork was taken.”
Committed to making the arts accessible to everyone, Webster Arts’ gallery in Old Orchard is open anyone interested in visual arts who wants to be creatively inspired through educational experiences and contemporary exhibitions.
“Webster Groves is known as the ‘City of the Arts,’ and I think Webster Arts is a major contributor to that,” Patrick Murphy, board president of Webster Arts, said. “In order to have a have a healthy community, you have to have a vital art scene. The more the arts are integrated into the fibers of the community, the more open-minded the community will be, and the more tools it will have to solve problems.”
In addition to being community-focused, the organization is known for supporting and promoting local artists and beyond. The exhibitions and art shows presented by Webster Arts are national and anyone can apply to have their work displayed. Once the artists submit their work, it goes through a blind jury process to be considered for exhibition. In addition, artists get a chance to talk about their work: Every exhibition or showcase usually comes with classes or workshops held by the artist.
“We have a good representation of being one of the most art-friendly organizations,” Murphy said. “We really take care of our artists and provide for things like housing and feeding them – we really do care a lot about our artists.”
Murphy notes that Webster Arts’ growth is made possible by collaborations with other local organizations. Because it is a nonprofit, Webster Arts is supported by grants, private donations, fundraising and community events.
Donaldson also credits the board and volunteers who oversee and staff the many events hosted by Webster Arts throughout the year.
“In addition to an outstanding board, we have an amazing group of volunteers that give their time to our organization year after year,” Donaldson said. “Without this help, we would not be able to host some of our more beloved community events.”
Webster Arts is hosting two upcoming events for the holiday season, including two Gazebo Artists Market events on Nov. 19 and Dec. 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Gazebo Park in Old Orchard. In addition, the “Seasonal Rhythms” exhibition, which focuses on 2D and 3D art that showcase the transitional nature of seasonal change and its impact on our lives, runs through Dec. 23 at the gallery, located at 2 Summit Ave. For more information, visit webster-arts.org.