The South Essex Arts Association is dedicated to creating and sustaining a celebration of the human spirit through the nurturing of the arts within our community.
The South Essex Arts Association, in partnership with the various art mediums and other disciplines within the arts culture, promotes, fosters and stimulates the appreciation of the arts.Through artistic events and exhibitions with a special focus on the work of local artisans, SEAA assists in preserving all forms of art within the community.
In 1971, a group of local art supporters and Ken Saltmarche of the Art Gallery of Windsor and Jeremy Watney of Toronto met at the home of Dr. Frank and Adele Kelly to discuss the possibility of forming a local art group. There was a regional art grant to be shared by Chatham and Essex County. An organization was subsequently formed and named the South Essex Arts Association (SEAA).
Registered as a not-for-profit charitable arts organization on August 9, 1971, its purpose was to: 1) Promote, foster and stimulate appreciation of the arts in all its aspects in the County of Essex. 2) Provide facilities and assistance for the development of local talent in the arts. 3) Present artistic events and displays 4) Preserve all forms of art.
The SEAA’s first home was a former church on Queens Ave. Leamington and a regional director was hired through funding from a government grant. This initial site proved to be too small for a gallery, thus the SEAA relocated to a larger premises on Mill St. When the rent was raised too high for a budding new arts and cultural organization, the SEAA relocated once again, finding a temporary home for free in the craft room at the Recreation Centre. By 1973 the SEAA had been making a strong community impact and gaining recognition, it was granted a municipally owned building to occupy of its own.
In its early years, the SEAA held many art exhibitions from: painting, photography, weaving, pottery, quilting and antiques. In a short period of time, the SEAA had shown a wide range arts exhibition from traveling shows, local art, student work and everything from the most traditional to the avant-garde. The SEAA had also presented authors, poets and organized several workshops. The Association was clearly an asset to the community.
Over the next few years many volunteers worked hard to raise monies and awareness through events and programs to grow the SEAA. Events such as a show and sale at the Miner House, a Festival of Arts at Mill Street School, Give a Painting for Christmas at the Gallery, Festival of Art at Leamington District High School, a Fashion Show at the Pelee Motor Inn, Art in the Park at Kingsville Lakeside Park and on the corner of Main and Division. Other events included sidewalk sales and bus trips. Many events were so successful that they became annual projects.
From 1979 to 1983, a committee of six governed the SEAA until 1983, a board with ten members was elected with leaders, Gesine Rodger and Mary Anne Franks as treasurer.
In the following years the SEAA was supported primarily by volunteer fundraising initiatives and community donations. It employed part-time and occasional staff as placements funded by the unemployment help centre and government grants.
In 1995, through the efforts of committed board members such as Ralph and Madeleine Butler, Marg and Don Ross among others, the SEAA finally found a permanent home at 72 Talbot Street West in the heart of uptown Leamington. This 21/2 story building was the former federal building, first used as a Post Office, and then housed many other federal agencies, from Unemployment Office to Customs.
The building had been purchased by the municipality and is one of the few heritage buildings in Leamington.
For the SEAA it afforded the much-required space for a local art gallery with room for other arts and culture initiatives such as classes for adults and children. Although the exterior was sound, the interior needed much renovation, and it was again through volunteers, supporters and donations that the building was brought to a workable state suitable for an arts organization and the gallery.
Michelle LeChien, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) graduate from the University of Guelph was hired as the first gallery coordinator in 2005 at approximately the time the Municipality of Leamington began to provide an annual operation grant to the SEAA. As well, in 2002, the town had also received federal funding to add an elevator to the building, but its construction was delayed because a performing arts centre was being considered as an addition on the east side of the art gallery. The elevator could possibly serve both structures. The elevator was built in 2007, while fund raising began in 2006 for the “Performing Arts & Culture Centre” led by a special committee.
That fundraising goal was not met, but that didn’t stop improvements at the art gallery. Through a federal Rural Economic Development (RED) grant the gallery had a $350,000 interior renovation, completed in the spring of 2010. Those renovations included a complete modernization of the gallery from lights to walls, floors and ceilings, and a new system to hang artwork. The entire gallery flow was re-invented opening up the spaces, creating an office, a gift shop, a Heinz gallery and two large galleries for artwork. The official opening of the modernized gallery was in April 2010. In 2009, Chad Riley, a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Graduate from Wayne State University and former SEAA board member was hired as the interim Director in 2009 and was later hired on as the permanent Director in January of 2010.
Since then, the SEAA and the LAC have continued to grow and gain unprecedented recognition throughout the region and beyond by supporting local and emerging artists while also showcasing artists from the United States, Toronto, London and all over Essex & Kent counties.
Today the SEAA/LAC is an award-winning organization and a pillar to the community. Supported by the Municipality of Leamington, many community partners, sponsors, donors and patrons from all over the region.
Thank you for 50+ years of creating, sustaining and celebrating the arts.