Friends of the Arts is an Alabama Bright Light of creative energy on the Gulf Coast

Friends of the Arts is an Alabama Bright Light of creative energy on the Gulf Coast
Desiree Blackwell, right, executive director of the Coastal Arts Center, talks with glass artist Kerry Parks. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

If you drive on Canal Road in Orange Beach heading east from all the tourist hoopla, you will come upon the Coastal Arts Center, a conclave of studios and buildings that house works of art beautiful enough to rival the picturesque views from the sugar-white sand beaches.

The Coastal Arts Center includes a huge gallery, a clay studio, a glass-blowing studio and several others. Friends of the Arts is the nonprofit that supports these art outlets.

“They volunteer with us and help with a lot of our programming, which includes Festival of the Arts in March and many other events,” said Desiree Blackwell, the executive director of the Coastal Arts Center and a board member of the nonprofit group. “Friends of the Arts provides lots of volunteers that help make those events happen. Things like camps, concerts, receptions for artists and many others.”

Friends of the Arts makes sure there’s beauty off the beach at Alabama’s Gulf Coast from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Friends of the Arts’ efforts include an after-school program, Arts Afire Fall Festival, the Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival, Light up the Arts and artist receptions.

“Friends of the Arts has been around for 20 years. Our mission is to assist and promote the arts all along the Gulf Coast,” Blackwell said. “We do that primarily by raising funds for programming, volunteering, spreading the word and generally being engaged with the arts in our area.”

Working with the Coastal Arts Center, the volunteer group provides children’s events throughout the year, such as Sunday Funday art parties. Blackwell says her roles with the center and Friends of the Arts are fulfilling and rewarding.

“My heart overflows here, especially when I see the impact that the arts have on our children locally. I see how it affects our seniors. It touches my heart and I am very blessed to be in this position,” Blackwell said. “I want visitors to leave remembering not just the sand and the waves and the fun they had on the beach. I want them to leave with a memory of our art community that will bring them back.”

Next time you’re down at Orange Beach, go ahead and get that tan, ride those waves, catch that fish and eat at that restaurant. But also make sure you stop by the Coastal Arts Center and sample its many offerings. Being a “Friend of the Arts” will give you many memories, in addition to the sand and the waves.

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Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected].

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