West Main Artists Co-op: Create Local

Sitting atop a hill overlooking West Main Street, the West Main Artists Co-op is off the beaten path of downtown Spartanburg. But it is well worth the detour.

The space was previously home to the West Main Baptist Church, a Spartanburg landmark, left abandoned until 2009. Its revitalization was initiated by Teresa Prater and Howard Solomon, who had a joint vision of a collaborative space where artists could create, showcase, and share their art. The 20,000 square feet of space was lovingly transformed into an artist’s paradise and had its grand opening in the spring of 2010. The former church’s structure can still be seen if you look closely. The main space of the co-op, occupying 2,000 square feet, is lined with original stained glass windows, each now enhanced with medallions created by a local artist. It is now a rentable venue that is used for everything from private art shows and parties to wedding receptions. The transformation isn’t over yet—plans are in the works for an urban yard and sculpture park on the grounds, giving artists and guests an outdoor space for creating, exhibiting, and relaxing.

Today more than 45 artists, in a variety of media, comprise the nonprofit cooperative whose purpose is to provide local artists with affordable studio space, the opportunity to collaborate and learn from other artists, and a chance to exhibit their work to the community. The co-op is an equal opportunity arts exhibitor, with everything from ceramic and glassworks to fiber arts and woodworking. Local musicians round out the members of the co-op. Current exhibitions include delicate, miniature mice and frogs by Joan Wheatley; functional pottery by Nancy Williamson; and a five-foot tall, intricate relief sculpture by Beth Regula.

West Main Artists Co-op offers two types of memberships for artists who are looking for a space to create and who would like to play a role in the co-op’s operations. Opportunities vary, but all members contribute to every aspect of running and maintaining the co-op.

A blend of bluegrass music and woodworking sounds resonate throughout the top two floors, which have a house-like layout with a myriad of exhibition rooms. But it is downstairs where the creativity truly comes to life. This is where the artists have found their second home in their respective workspaces. Buckets of glaze, pottery wheels, a slab roller, well-worn woodworking tools, and works of art in various stages of completion line the walls. Adjacent to the main room are the smaller artists’ spaces, many with a lived-in, casual vibe. Downstairs is also home to The Printery, which has been lovingly maintained by skilled letterpress printer, W. F. Wheatley, until his death early this month. This impressive space is a well-organized home to thousands of individual typesettings, including wood and lead type, operational presses, and an archive of historical typesetting and typography materials.

The cooperative hasn't just been a haven to the artists who have found a new place to create and be inspired. The unique blend of artists has helped increase Spartanburg’s exposure to a variety of arts, while contributing to the city’s revitalization efforts. A joint effort with Converse College and USC Upstate, via the educational outreach program, has provided students with the exclusive opportunity to develop their skills in a professional atmosphere and private studio space. One student from each school is selected every term. The Education Outreach program exposes students to all aspects of running the cooperative, including special events, giving students real-world leadership skills certain to benefit them throughout their careers.

West Main Artists Co-op participates in Spartanburg’s Art Walk event, held every third Thursday ofeach month. They keep their doors open until 9 p.m. during Art Walk, encouraging the public to visit the gallery, chat with the artists, and discover new passions. Guests can explore the gallery shop and explore the variety of classes and workshops offered.

As the only studio art co-op in Spartanburg County, West Main Artists Co-op has set the bar for nonprofit artist communities. The supportive team of artists takes pride in maintaining a collaborative space to create and appreciate art. Whether you are a beginner ceramicist, an established printmaker, or just an admirer of the arts, West Main Artists Cooperative is the perfect place to rub elbows (and paintbrushes) with some of Spartanburg’s premier artisans.

West Main Artists Co-op is located at 578 West Main Street, Spartanburg. Their next Art Walk is Thursday, December 17 from 5 p.m.–9:00 p.m. The cooperative’s regular hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can find them online and on Facebook.

Article and photos by Deb Peluso