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Christmas at the Gilbert Center adds to local art culture

Tuesday, December 5, 2023
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Leader photo by Cathi Cox-Boniol
Deondray Spivey was one of the artists invited to participate in the Night Market hosted by The Gilbert Center in downtown Ruston over the weekend.

With “Christmas at the Gilbert Center,” the community enjoyed a festive occasion that provided holiday cheer along with a market featuring unique curated finds from local artists and artisans.

It also provided the unveiling of a cultural hub in historic downtown Ruston destined to elevate an already robust arts scene to the next level.

“This is all just wonderful,” artist Dianne Douglas said. “We have needed this for so long and it really meets a need felt for too long. The gallery space is amazing and is such a wonderful addition to what our arts community already has in place.”

Douglas is referring to The Gilbert Center, a legacy program of the Ross Lynn Charitable Foundation (RLCF). This initiative, located at 301 N. Trenton St. in the heart of downtown Ruston, pays homage to Kit Gilbert while contributing to the lasting legacy of RLCF.

“Through Kit’s generous donation, she has entrusted the Ross Lynn Charitable Foundation with carrying on her legacy,” said Dylan Sanders, Director of The Gilbert Center. “Her gift allowed us to acquire this building and do what we’re doing now. Her trust in us means more than can be expressed.”

While originally renting the space for Studio 301, Gilbert became more familiar with the people involved and what they were doing. From there a natural connection evolved because Gilbert truly liked what was taking place. As she further considered her legacy the connection would go on to prompt this incredible gift, something Sanders said would equip them to meet three important goals.

“My hope with the Gilbert Center is three things: arts education, events and exhibitions,” Sanders said. “ We want to really add something special to downtown with events that truly support artists. So this has been a god- send because it’s just one of those things that Ruston has been wanting. For us to be able to immediately run it and do the work has been amazing.”

The Gilbert Center is designed to serve as a vibrant focal point for learning and art experiences while housing Creative Exchange and Number Nine Bookstore, both tenants within the building, and The Gilbert Center gallery and studio space. While very little work has been needed to get things up and running, plans are still ongoing.

Following basic renovations, some already complete, the building will ultimately showcase a more cohesive design and include 7 private studios that can be rented to artists. Sanders said there’s nothing like it in town. “It’s wonderful for artists that don’t want to work at home alone but be a part of an artist community. It also establishes an artist community while connecting it with the broader community.”

Deondray Spivey, a free lance artist from Ruston, returned home from the military and resumed his art. One of the artists invited for the Night Market’s activities, he was thrilled to be part of the launch.

“This is great opportunity for me to expose my art within the community. I’ve never been a part of an art show before and this is a great way to showcase myself and my art,” he said. “It’s a great space and I’m really enjoying myself while sharing the ‘wild razzle dazzle’ of my art.”

Heather Gill, a ceramics artist from West Monroe, concurred. “I love this space. It’s gorgeous and I’m so happy they invited me,” she said.

Sanders is thrilled with how the center’s location invites people downtown. In fact, he hints at even more to come.

“Plans are in place to make The Gilbert Center a shining example of what welcoming people downtown should be. Within about 2 years, the plan should come to fruition,” Sanders said. “But right now just turning the lights on in the building is important. As Kit got older, the building was used less and less. But we want it to be alive. And thanks to her gift, it is. So we’re focused on our rebranding and celebrating what we’ve been gifted. Because that is something worth celebrating.”