First City Arts Center

First City Art Center to expand for more accessibility

Hot glass working at First City Arts Center. Courtesy of Meredith Doyen.

Big plans for expansion and outreach are in store in the new year for the First City Art Center, with the help of a $102,500 IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area grant.

The pottery area, which is currently squeezed inside the glassblowing hot shop, will get its own climate-controlled building. An awning will go alongside the building to create a porch, and two handicap accessible bathrooms will be installed.

The projects will be designed by Michelle MacNeil of Architectural Affairs.

“All this stuff we couldn’t have done without the grant,” says Meredith Doyen, executive director of the First City Art Center.

Doyen says the new space will allow for more programs and participants.

Plans include a glass-fusing shop in place of the old pottery area, as well as a cold shop, where existing pieces of glass can be cut or chopped.

“We’ve got a plan to fill in all around,” Doyen says. “Long-term, we’d like to see this campus expand in a lot of directions.”

Doyen says some of the first purchases will be a security camera system and a large tent, which would provide shelter from the ever-changing Pensacola weather.

“If it rains, it could take a $10,000 fundraiser to half of that. So I want full coverage,” she says.

The Center has several events each year, mainly in the fall and winter months.

Its biggest event is the Glass Pumpkin Patch in October, where this year some 2,000 pumpkins were designed by about 40 artists. It also joined the Foo Foo Festival this year with its Foo Foo on Fire event, formerly called Glass Jam. Its recurring Hot Glass, Cold Brew event happens again at 5 p.m. on Feb. 6.

Pottery classes are offered for one day or six weeks, and the new building will allow for 15 participants instead of the current eight.

Glassblowing sessions include four, three-hour classes or a one-day session.

If participants take a certain amount of classes in either department, they are able to rent space in the facility to make their artwork.

“That’s why we talk about it being a public access art center,” Doyen says. “You can come in and rent this equipment and use it on your own after you’ve been trained.”

The on-site art gallery also has six studios, where about 13 artists work, that are leased out each year.

Coming to observe the artists at work or view the gallery is always free though.

“Almost any time you walk in you’re going to catch somebody making something,” Doyen says. “We want people to come and check everything out.”

The Center has been at its current location at the corner of Guillemard and Gonzalez streets for two and a half years. Prior to relocating, it was called the Belmont Arts and Cultural Center.

“It’s been interesting because we kind of had to retrain the entire community of where we’re at, what we’re called and what our website address is,” Doyen says. “It’s kind of like we’re starting over.”

While the Center’s mission is to be a working art center available to the public, Doyen says outreach is the most important part.

“The outreach piece is I think the most important piece because none of it matters if you haven’t fostered the future artists or the future consumers of art, so they have to respect it and understand that it’s cool,” she says. “And once they come to a place like this, they’re all in. They love it.”