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Preston Arts Center kicks off art classes, prepares for grand opening

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Acrylic paints fill the shelving along a wall within the new Preston Arts Center. While the store is preparing for full operations in late July, staple materials are stocked for customers needs. 

JEFFERSONVILLE—At Preston Arts Center, customers don't need to worry whether they are "real artists"—the shop aims to help people become comfortable expressing themselves through art, regardless of their experience level.

The fine arts supplies store isn't officially open yet in Jeffersonville, but it has already begun its role as a hub for artistic expression in Southern Indiana.

Preston Arts Center, located at 222 W. Sixth St. in the former Silica Ceramic Studio building, is the newest addition to downtown Jeffersonville's NoCo Arts and Cultural District. Preston Arts Center was open in New Albany for decades before closing in 2011, and it has a store on Bardstown Road in Louisville.

Although there have been a few delays in opening the Jeffersonville location, the shop is preparing to open for regular business on July 1. The shop started its art classes this week, including a weeklong kids camp and adult class on the basics of drawing.

Andrew Preston, president of Preston Arts Center, said the shop will provide a "full package." In addition to the art supplies store, the store includes two classroom spaces for its art courses, one of which is ready for use. He also plans to use a space in the store as a gallery to display work from its students.

The art classes included topics such as drawing, painting and fabric dyeing. The shop includes even more classroom space than the Louisville location, and it will offer instruction for people with no prior art experience, including people who "can't even draw a straight line with a ruler," Preston said.

"It gives people a vehicle to bring something out of themselves and be brave enough to show it," he said. "That's something that I feel we're able to bring, and we're very happy to do it."

Preston Arts Center had a soft opening on June 1 to introduce the shop to the area, and about 100 people stopped by, he said. Preston looks forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other local businesses. For example, he plans to work with Maker13 in Jeffersonville to construct coffee tables using found wood and resin.

The store's art supplies cover a variety of art mediums, including oil paints, watercolors, acrylic paint, fabric dyes, alcohol inks and drawing supplies. Preston said he likes the positive spirit he has found in Jeffersonville, and he is excited to officially open up the shop.

"There's a real momentum," he said "There's a real hope and drive to make some change happen. It's so great to see that people aren't sitting back and waiting for things to come to them—they're going out and making it happen. That's what I'm most excited about—that ambition."

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Andrew Preston, president of Preston Arts Center, looks over progress at the new Jeffersonville location, where they removed walls to create a larger space for classrooms and private functions. 

Dawn Spyker, public art administrator for the City of Jeffersonville, is thrilled to see Preston Arts Center in Jeffersonville. She said the introduction of the art store enhances the creativity occurring in the NoCo Arts & Cultural District, and she is happy that it will bring more practicing artists into the area to teach community members.

"There is a need, there is a desire and there is a want for creativity to happen right here in this hub, in this city and in this region," she said. "They are going to surpass any expectations we had for them."

Louisville illustrator Justice Naim taught kids the basics of drawing this week at the Jeffersonville shop. He has led many classes at Preston Arts Center's Louisville location, and he hopes to remain actively involved in the new shop as it prepares to open.

"It's kind of cool to see that there are people across the bridge who are just as into art and want their children to be into art and want this region to be more creative," he said.

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Colt Mayden, 12, draws in his sketchbook while attending an art class at the new Preston Arts Center in Jeffersonville, formerly the Silica Ceramic Studio. 

Naim said it is important to give people the opportunity to be creative, and the presence of Preston Arts Center in Jeffersonville will inspire both adults and children to become involved in artistic pursuits, even if it's just a hobby. As an illustrator, he frequently uses materials from the shop, and he appreciates the variety of supplies and the store's openness to feedback from artists.

"I think that Preston has always been kind of a hub for artists, not only to get art supplies, but also for classes and to communicate with different creators in the community, whether they are painters, illustrators, sculptors or printmakers," he said.

Preston Arts Center has been a family business for several generations. It started 70 years ago in New Albany when Preston's grandparents opened a paint and wallpaper store in 1941, and in the late 1970s, the shop at 315 Pearl St. shifted its focus to fine art supplies and classes. The Bardstown Road location opened in 1994.

He said much of his interest in the arts comes from his love of "watching paint dry." While he does not paint or draw himself, he is fascinated in the chemistry of how different materials mix together, and he enjoys seeing how materials work to create art.

Preston was happy to find the opportunity to bring Preston Arts Center back to Southern Indiana. He said he has seen a strong interest among the Jeffersonville community for the business, and he has already seen plenty of people sign up for classes.

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Lavena Myers, 10, draws images on a white board as students play pictionary near the end of an art class at the Preston Arts Center in the Jeffersonville Arts District. 

He said Preston Arts Center will offer plenty of options for people who "don't just want to turn their brains off" after work.

"It's like I got through work, I made dinner, this and that, what else am I going to do?" he said. "It's for people who want to keep going and do things. That's one of the things we feel like we can bring to the table—our interest in education and learning."

Preston said art can be a lonely occupation or passion for many people, but the shop offers a place for artists to meet each other and develop friendships.

"Something we're able to do—because we're not just people who stand behind the checkout counter and say this is how much your paint is—we're able to kind of sort of unite people a little more effectively taking classes," he said. "We see people on our sales floor at our other store—and also, I remember, at our New Albany shop—giving hugs to each other...you see two people saying, 'oh, it's so wonderful to see you."