Efforts to save Laurel Art Center in the works

The closing of the Laurel Art Center last week after 35 years of operation on Main Street got lots of people talking in Laurel, but none more than Resa Moran.

The former manager of the center has been having discussions in the last week with local artists, city officials, friends and potential financial backers interested in maintaining the center as an anchor in the downtown area's newly established arts district, she said.

She said she's also been in touch with the center's owners, Leo and Joyce Emery, and their family about buying the center property and its inventory.

Moran wants to reinvent the store, but also to maintain its eclectic inventory, she said.

"My hope is that we will be able to keep the art center around for a long time, and that it will live up to its name," she said.

She envisions the center as a meeting place for local artists that offers interactive art classes and maintains a "dynamic interaction" with the rest of Main Street.

"If I can pull it off, that's what I'm going for," she said.

Her discussions with the Emery family are still in the early stages, and nothing has been settled, Moran said.

But she said she is encouraged by her conversations with the family so far, and hopes something can be worked out for the sake of the local arts community, which the art center has been such a large part of for so long.

"I think the loss of the art center would be a big blow to the arts district," Moran said. "It would take a long time to build up to something like the art center again."

It's unclear whether Moran will be successful in her efforts, in part because of the amount of money that would be involved in a potential transfer of the store's ownership.

"It's going to take a lot of money," Moran said.

Records show the store property alone, without the large inventory there now, is worth more than $1 million.

In a letter to the Laurel Leader this week, Joyce Emery said age and health concerns contributed to her and her husband's decision to retire — she is 80, he is 81 and had a stroke four years ago — but also noted the "state of the economy has taken a toll on the business" (see Letters, Page 12).

The couple's children are now helping to determine the best course of action to take with the family's business.

One of the couple's sons, Randy Emery, who with his wife, Cathy, owns the Gallery Frame Shop, also on Main Street, said the family would like to see the store remain a part of the community, but there are many considerations to be made, including what's best for his parents.

Deborah Randall, owner of the Venus Theatre on C Street and head of the Laurel Arts District Exploratory Committee, said she recently spoke with Rhonda Dallas, interim executive director of the Prince George's Arts and Humanities Council, about bringing public arts funding to Laurel, and the future of the art center as an anchor for the city's arts district came up.

Dallas will be in attendance at the next LADEC meeting at Venus Theatre, scheduled for March 20, at noon, Randall said.

Moran said that as discussions continue with the Emery family and she gets closer to having a solid proposal for the center, she will make an announcement about how others in the community might be able to help, financially or otherwise.

"As soon as I'm close enough to ask for help, I'm going to ask for help," she said.

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