A New Year for ESAC

Written by ESAC Executive Director Bryant Whelan

A New Year for ESAC

May 31 marks the end of the fiscal year 2021 at ESAC. This is the time we reflect over the year, finalize our annual budget for next year, and review our programming. We mourn our mistakes and celebrate our successes.


Mostly, it is a joyful time to honor and thank our ESAC volunteers, Board of Directors, members, donors, and staff for hard work and support.


This year, while Covid-19 affected everything for ESAC in so many ways, it did not deter us or define us. We have so much to celebrate!


But let’s recap the situation first.


The end of the fiscal year May 31, 2020 left the Art Center with deep financial losses.


Our doors had been closed.


Employees were furloughed.


All art classes were canceled.


Outreach programs were canceled.


Outdoor Art Show was canceled.


White Linen Night was canceled.


There were no special events, no wedding reception rentals, and no Annual Member Meeting. Many museums and arts organizations around the world fared so much worse than we did, proving that these financial losses could have been devastating to ESAC.

But the Art Center rallied!


We applied for federal COVID-19 relief and received crucial operating funds.


We applied for every grant we could physically apply for and won 100% of those grants.


We implemented safety measures and started holding classes at a reduced capacity.


We took exhibits into the outdoors where the public could enjoy them without entering a building.


An exhibit of Betty Sue Matthews’ statues was mounted on the Fairhope bluff.


The ESAC front patio served as a pop-up exhibition space for artists to express their pandemic fears through art.


ESAC created a “Quarantine Quilt” from art created by local artists with their responses to the pandemic.


When all physical outreach programming was no longer possible, Nancy Raia created a “Whispers in the Wind” program creating hundreds of art flags with messages of hope. These flags continue to be distributed to front-line workers and honoring those in need or suffering around the country.


Our members and supporters continued to give. Our year-end double donation campaign raised $80,000! Thank you for contributing!


ESAC won an Impact 100 Baldwin County grant of $90,000 to update our Academy entrance with a new ADA compliant handicapped ramp, a touch-free entry with automatic doors, a new reception area, and studio updates. Much of this work is completed but there’s even more in store so stay tuned.


We continued hosting gallery exhibits and promoted them online. Art Walk went virtual. Online classes were begun.


Once social distancing mandates were lifted, slowly people began coming back. Our membership renewals began to increase.

Our classes began to fill to capacity. This year our Academy tuition reached an astounding 75% of the levels in previous years even with reduced capacity. This is really amazing—our students were ready to come back! Academy Director Reanna Watson never gave up and rose to the challenges. The most exciting result is that we were able to have our instructors earning income from teaching again. We also want to thank all of our teachers for their understanding of the new environment created by the pandemic and their willingness to work in alternate conditions.


Marketing and Exhibits Director Adrienne Clow persevered in ensuring our exhibits were always managed and hung to the high standards artists expect from ESAC. Some artists had to back out of exhibits and Adrienne was able to gracefully replace those exhibitions with alternate high caliber shows in short order. ESAC exhibit sales also began rising. We are all so proud to be able to continue to be a revenue source for exhibiting artists.


ESAC also received a very generous donation from the artist Nall of Alabama art and folk art to create a dedicated gallery that will help boost visits to ESAC. Sales of many of these artworks will support vital ESAC exhibit programming.


Our Annual Outdoor Art Show was back for it’s 49th year and was a huge success. Adrienne Clow and Malia Mullican worked hard to organize this event, then re-organize it again after a 6-week postponement by the City of Fairhope. With a reduced number of booths for social distancing, the artists were pleased with the overall show and reported excellent sales this year. They were so glad to be back and selling their art

We weren’t sure we would be able to host White Linen Night again this year, but decided to forge ahead, reducing the number of available tickets by one-third for a smaller event. Even with reduced attendance, the event was a huge success and tons of fun. Plus, we raised $28,000 for ESAC programming. Thank you to all who sponsored, bought tickets, donated, and purchased artwork in our auctions.


Our volunteers have been there with us all through this unusual year. Margie Gewirtz worked diligently to fill the front desk positions even with many of our volunteers staying home during the pandemic. Cheryl Boyce was here organizing and helping at every chance, at every event. Malia Mullican led the charge of Outdoor Art Show as a volunteer and has earned “Lifetime Member” status at ESAC. At our annual meeting, we named our volunteer of the year—Caroline Herron! Thank you to Caroline for her many years of volunteer service to ESAC.


The staff has weathered so much and yet been so diligent. I am personally so grateful for all of their creativity, positive attitudes, and hard work! We are happy also to report a new addition to our full-time staff, Jessica Leonard, who has been named Director of Finance and Administration.


Finally, our Board has been amazing! For next year, all of our Board members are returning. Thank you for all you do to support ESAC and our mission.


At our annual meeting the membership voted a resounding YES to our fiscal year 2021-2022 board:


President: Carl Harper (Class of 2024)

Vice President: Bill Munson (Class of 2022)

Secretary: Paige Dawson (Class of 2023)

Treasurer: Willa Lyle ( Class of 2022)

Class of 2022: Judy Oxford, Lenise Ligon

Class of 2023: Rick Kingrea, Lizette Norman

Class of 2024: Jimmy Prestwood, Nancy Rowe, Eusebia Fink, Stephen Savage


Here’s to 2022!

Bryant Whelan

Fairhope Website Services