The aptly named Art McNaughton, president of the Atlanta Artists Center, just got elected to another term as the nonprofit organization celebrates its 65th anniversary. The Reporter paid a visit to him at the AAC’s home at 2979 Grandview Avenue in Buckhead to find out about the nonprofit’s past and future. For more information, see atlantaartistscenter.org.

Atlanta Artists Center president Art McNaughton. (Kevin C. Madigan)

Q. What was the genesis of the Atlanta Artists Center?

A. The organization has been around since 1954 and started out as a watercolor group — just a small group of people who were living here in Buckhead trying to find different places to paint.

They were renting small rooms anywhere they could, frustrated at not having a place to call home, so they formed an organization, pooled their money and eventually bought this building — a 1920s house — in the early ’70s. Buckhead was still pretty reasonable then.

The membership started to grow. It wasn’t just watercolors anymore; they started to involve other artists, and in 1990 added studio space in the back so they could have meetings and bring in models to draw and sketch. The front part turned into the primary gallery space where they could show artwork.

Q. So is the AAC the oldest arts organization in Georgia?

A. It’s a safe bet we are the oldest in the Southeast. It’s a well-kept secret. In June we had a 65th anniversary celebration. It was relatively successful, but there were people here from right down the street, our own neighbors, who had no idea what this was or who we were.

Q. You are an artist yourself, right?

A. Yes, I still paint, but my duties as president have cut into that a little bit. I’m hoping to change that.

Q. What is the hardest part about running the show?

A. It’s an all-volunteer organization, so trying to get such a diverse membership engaged… Some of them are elderly, set in their ways, then we have younger people who want to push the envelope and do things differently, so making sure everyone is marching in the same path — that’s tough.

Inside the Atlanta Artists Center exhibit space at 2979 Grandview Ave. (Kevin C. Madigan)

Q. How does being a member of the AAC work, and what are some of the benefits?

A. We have workshops that go on constantly. We have sketch groups five days a week: you pay five dollars for the model; you don’t have to register or anything – just bring your materials and draw. You pay a small fee, $30, to submit three pieces of your work. It gets juried by someone with credentials in our industry, and we have ongoing exhibits every six weeks so you get to display your artwork in Buckhead. There are very few places you can do that.

We focus on life drawing primarily, so we have live models. Another benefit is if you sell any pieces here, we take only a 30% commission, which is significant. With most galleries it’s a 50-50 split.

I’m the exhibit chair and we look at everything that gets submitted, and sometimes I’m amazed at what doesn’t get chosen — really high-quality stuff. We have another show in which we’ve already juried in all the submissions. That will go up mid-November.

Q. What else should people know about the AAC?

A. We are open to anyone. We have a gallery that shows great artwork any time of the year. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so we do some charitable work: we are looking at bringing disabled veterans here for some drawing sessions. We also have a program that covers memberships for individuals who have the desire to attend classes but are unable to pay.

Q. What’s next?

A. We are having a holiday fundraiser here on Dec. 7. Some benefactors have already donated to us, which is awesome. In January, at the W Hotel in Buckhead, we’re sending an artist over to do some demonstrations, and we will have an exhibit there.

On Wednesdays there is an evening group for sketch class that comes here. I want to do more in the evenings to engage young professionals and students who can’t come in the middle of the day, so I’m going to add a Thursday night and probably a Saturday.

–Kevin C. Madigan

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