BROOKSVILLE — A decade ago, community arts volunteer Mary Alice Queiros and City Clerk Karen Phillips drove the first nails into the walls of Brooksville City Hall in an effort to provide a welcoming place for the works of Hernando County artists.
What started as a dream for both of them quickly became a labor of love and a win-win situation for everyone involved. Local artists had a premier gallery in which to display their talents. Art lovers were given a comfortable, low-key venue to see the works.
This month, as the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary, gallery director Rhonda Hancock happily reports that the dream is very much alive — and still growing.
"Given the small community we live in, it's a real treasure," Hancock said. "It shows the public that Hernando County has its share of high-caliber artists that are capable of turning out wonderful works."
These days, paintings fill the walls in every nook and cranny of the first and second floors of the building. All of which makes for a pleasant diversion for visitors stopping by to pay water bills or answering a summons, Hancock said.
"I've had workers in the building tell me that it relaxes people," the gallery director said. "I guess that says that even if you're having a bad day, art can change your outlook on life."
That's how Queiros saw things when she approached the Brooksville city manager with her idea of creating a public art gallery. A longtime champion of the arts, Queiros had helped the Brooksville Fine Arts Council start a program called "Art in Public Places," which for a while supported a homespun art display at Pasco-Hernando Community College's Brooksville campus.
Once the city moved into its new building in 1996, Queiros began lobbying to dress up the walls with art.
"We quickly found out that it takes a lot of paintings to cover the walls of that building," said Queiros, who retired as gallery director a year ago. "But once the word got out, we seldom had a problem finding good art. We got more 'yeses' than 'no's.' "
Since taking over the reins as director, Hancock has endeavored to stick to her predecessor's vision by showcasing a variety of mediums and artistic styles. The exhibits, which are changed four times a year, include everything from watercolor landscapes to abstract sculpture.
"Art ... comes in many forms," Hancock said. "It has never been our intention to be elitist. What is in the gallery is a reflection of the creativity of people who live in our community."
That philosophy is reflected in Hancock's desire to set aside areas for contributions from art and quilting groups, photography clubs and works by special-needs artists.
Although nudity and images that she feels might be offensive to the public are prohibited, Hancock says that what is exhibited in the gallery should pretty much be left up to the artists.
"We don't collect a commission, so there's no pressure to display only what we think might sell," Hancock said. "For artists who enjoy creating what they do, it offers much more freedom."
Through the years, the gallery has garnered the support of dozens of Hernando County's most notable artists, including Arline Erdrich, Lyn Wyatt and Tony Caparello.
Caparello, known locally for his Civil War mural in downtown Brooksville, says the gallery offers artists like him a place to exhibit works they might not otherwise show in commercial galleries.
"It's very nice for me to have a place to share my work with people I know in the community," said Caparello, who last year assembled for the gallery a display of paintings depicting Civil War soldiers.