This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The hum and rumble of the old train car factory quieted long ago in downtown St. Charles, but since 2004, it's been replaced with new sounds: Brush on canvas, little voices, music and talk, among other soft stirrings.
Recently, Angela Fowle took on the role of executive director at the Foundry Art Centre, adding an excited voice to the space. Fowle, who previously worked as exhibitions manager, has seen the Foundry transform from a gallery to a community hub. Now, she wants more of that.
Fowle spoke with the St. Louis Beacon about her new role, what's changed at the Foundry in the last nine years, and the surprises visitors find when they step inside.
Beacon: You’ve been with the Foundry for five years. What’s changed about the St. Charles art center in that time?
Fowle: There was much excitement when the Foundry first opened, it opened in May of 2004. People were very excited for juried exhibitions. Now, it’s moved beyond the arts. People are excited for the performances. We have studio artists who work on site, they work and sell and give classes out of their own studios. So it has moved beyond just the typical gallery experience.
When I first wrote about the Foundry five years ago, there was a sense among people in St. Charles and artists, particularly, in the region that this was something special to have in St. Charles County. Is there still a sense of novelty or excitement about the Foundry, or is it more a part of the St. Charles landscape now?
Fowle: I think there’s still excitement and novelty. We’re always trying to find something new. For instance we have our Second Thursdays, that’s something new we started in April. We have food trucks that arrive on the second Thursday of every month at 5:30 p.m., and we have artists demonstrations in the Grand Hall. It is a family event.
People can grab something from the food trucks, come in and maybe try their hand at pottery or painting. And it’s free. The food costs, but the demonstrations and the hands-on, that’s all free, so that’s something new. And I’ll tell you it’s building with each event we have. (The next one is coming up Sept. 12.)
One of the interesting features of the Foundry is the mezzanine artists studios. You have 21 in all. How many are currently being used?
Fowle: We have full studios right now. We just welcomed four new artists, so we do have a waiting list now. It’s a place where people want to be, they want to come here and work and have that excitement of people strolling by the studio and stepping in and asking about their technique, what motivates them, what inspires them.
If someone asked you to define the kinds of things you do, how would you describe the experience people have when they step into the Foundry, regardless of what’s there specifically.
Fowle: I think people are surprised. Using Lost and Found, for instance, this guy found some photographs and some slides. That sounds a little interesting, let's go take a look, and it was so much more. It was an experience. The slides had been transformed into prints, of course, and we had the prints on the wall. But it was a social media experience because the slides were discovered by Jeff Phillips, but their identity was discovered through social media, with a Facebook campaign to try to find who the couple was.
With Beneath the Covers, you hear about a book show, well, it’s so much more than a book show. You don’t expect to find a book that’s on a spool. And we do offer so many different things. Our next show will be Virtual Reality, so any art form where a computer is used in generating that piece. It could be anything from a digital photo to a web site to a video short.
What are you hoping changes with the Foundry in your time as executive director?
Fowle: I see the momentum, the momentum is definitley here. I want to see more community involvement.
I cannot tell you how many times we’ve had a visitor come in and say, I’ve lived here 30 years, or I live two blocks away, I never knew you existed. We are the best-kept secret and I would love to see the community more involved in our programs, in our free events.
We’d love to see everyone drop by, try their hand at something or view an exhibit, speak with one of our artists. I think it’s all about the community.