Meet Hope Reese: Nurturing Walton County’s artistic and creative community

In the latest issue of Walton Living Magazine, we featured a cross-section section of Walton’s Women of Influence who may not always be seen out there in the limelight, but whose contributions are invaluable to the lives of Walton County’s citizens. We have expanded on this a little to feature them individually on Your Local News and in this story we feature Hope Reese, director of Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts.

To read about all of the women featured, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Walton Living Magazine at one of the Walton County city halls, libraries or the Chamber of Commerce or click or tap on this link to read the digital version. To read the latest Newsletter from Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts detailing all the Holiday Events, click or tap on this link.

Hope Reese, director of Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts

The Monroe-Walton Center for the Arts has become a central part of the downtown community, largely due to its director, Hope Reese. She came out of retirement, well really staying home to take care of her special needs granddaughter, in February 2017 and since then hardly a day goes by that there isn’t something different and exciting going on at the center.

“I was a member a hundred years ago — my kids attended the arts camp when they were little. But now I’m a member because there is more for me,” said author Lori Duff who can often be found emceeing one of the Saturday night open mic nights. “Under her guidance the art center has become more prominent and vibrant and a real community hub. It has gone from this obscure place to a destination Art is essential to the soul of any community, in my opinion. Without creativity, it becomes stagnant. By increasing the footprint of the creative arts in Monroe, she has contributed to the vitality of the entire community.”

Reese, not an artist herself, sees herself as the worker bee, “The boring drone, in service to the artists and true geniuses around here.”

“Along with a really great board, we’ve embarked on a mission to re-imagine the art center. Like any organization that’s been around for a quarter of a century, we had grown to be a little stagnant. But with the growth and changes in Monroe, the youth and creative spirit of our community — we saw a big change was needed,” Reese said.

As the only full-time worker of MWCA, it’s been Reese’s job to carry out that vision. She is responsible for the planning, social media, website; working with artists, teachers and the board. 

“We’re a gallery, but also a teaching arts center – with TONS going on,” she said. “We have become almost a second home to many creatives in our community. Community is actually an important part of who we are and what we do — an outreach to people of all ages (so neat to see teens working right alongside older adults!). We offer free or low-cost art classes to special needs adults and children, also to the elderly. We have our Art MD healing art kits, too. Hundreds of these kits have been provided to agencies all over Walton County to give to kids in times of trauma, sickness or loss. We are providing volunteer artists to paint murals and uplifting quotes on walls at Ridgeview. In addition to our affordable and varied classes and workshops for all ages in visual and literary arts, we also offer several free creative gatherings – open to the public at no charge. Art is good on a personal level, as science proves that doing art – any kind of art – for just 45 minutes lowers stress. It is also good for a community in that it provides a sense of place and belonging.  Art can be used to define a town or a county.  Economic studies also prove that art enhances the live of those living in or visiting a community. A robust and exciting art center in a town the size of Monroe is a unique and precious thing.”

Reese’s passion for the Center is something that is appreciated, not only for those who are members, but also the MWCA board that is excited to see it flourish.

“I just can’t say enough good things about her and what she’s done. She’s a joy to be around – a very positive image for the Center,” says Joe Gargasz, MWCA president. “When I came on with the board, we made a very conscious decision to rebrand the institution and went ahead and decided to bring her in because we saw her potential. She was just what we needed and we’re very proud of her efforts. She is instrumental in running the Center for the Arts. She puts in tireless hours coordinating and work working with teachers to put the events together. She manages the gallery and the store and stays very active at the center. She’s very much committed to making it a success.”

Reese said the long-term goal for the center is to keep doing even more of what they’re doing.

“We have a tagline: ‘Art For All.’ We’re going to continue expanding our services and making art even more accessible to more and more and more of our neighbors of all ages and all abilities,” she says.

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