BROOKSVILLE — Despite a well-earned reputation for harboring a thriving, diverse art community that has dozens of active amateurs and professionals dedicated to every form of visual creativity, Hernando County has never had the distinction of being much of a haven for those who want to view art.
While a few small businesses are happy to display a few original works by local artists, the county's largest public art display is housed inside Brooksville City Hall, and can be seen only during weekday business hours.
For Hernando County Arts Council president Roger Carlton Sherman, the lack of available gallery space has always been something of an embarrassment. Earlier this year, he pushed for the organization to consider a generous offer by Brooksville engineer and newly elected County Commissioner Nick Nicholson to locate the council's operation at Nicholson's business office on Horse Lake Road, and to coordinate the public gallery he originally built to house the original paintings by his son, Michael.
The deal was, in Sherman's words, an answered prayer.
"Not only did we find a permanent home; we also got a place where we could showcase the wonderful artistic talent we have in this county," he said. "It couldn't have come at a more needy time for us."
Opened in August, the gallery, with its vaulted ceiling and track lighting, received an instant welcome from artists and art lovers alike. Spacious enough to accommodate more than three dozen paintings at one time, the goal is to feature quarterly exhibits with both local and regional artists, Sherman said.
Currently, the gallery is hosting the works of well-known area artists Rosalie Lo Curcio and Rosa Lea Addington, whose collective sculptures and paintings were part of special co-exhibit called "Face to Face" at the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery in 2008.
Lo Curcio, a former graphic artist turned sculptor who creates pieces inspired by ancient cultures, praised the gallery's progressive approach to art and its tolerance toward artistic control.
Public gallery curators, she said, "can get pretty squeamish when it comes to what they want people to see."
Indeed, while Brooksville's art gallery prohibits the inclusion of any nude paintings and sculptures, no such ban exists at the new Hernando County Arts Council Gallery.
"Keeping those types of works out is unfair to artists and to people who have a serious appreciation for art," Lo Curcio said. "It's a very provincial attitude."
Although established nearly three decades ago, the Hernando County Arts Council is in the process of trying to bounce back from financial problems that nearly bankrupted the nonprofit organization. Sherman, who was once chairman of the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa and an early supporter of Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry, said the art gallery is an important step in creating a visible presence the council was sorely lacking.
"For years, few people knew we even existed, and that cost us dearly," he said. "Now we have somewhere we can host music concerts, art shows and events that will help us build our financial resources. We're very proud to have this facility."
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Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.