The Art of Giving
Dec 13, 2011 08:52AM
● By Mike
2011 Southlake Style Community Impact Award Winners
By Rhonda Ross
More than 25 years ago, a small group of women got together to plan a get-acquainted coffee in an effort to meet other like-minded women in their community. The initial gathering of forty ladies set the stage for an organization that has blossomed into a thriving charitable group of nearly 150 women. It was September of 1985 when the six women met around a picnic table in a Grapevine park. Founding Member, Gina Bernasek, recalls, “There were no parks in Southlake and no community places for us to meet, [route] 1709 was a two lane road. For years we met in members homes and we had to limit our membership to 40 women because of space constraints. There was always a waiting list.”
The founding members of the Southlake Women’s Club (SWC) originally met to enjoy each other’s company but before long they recognized they shared more than friendship alone. They shared the desire to become more involved in their community and to give back to the area they loved. With a heart for charity and a pride in their community the members of SWC created not just fundraisers but community gatherings that would generate funds used to help local charitable organizations in their efforts. Gina mentioned, “It was the right thing at the right time. Women were thrilled to have something to belong to and I really think it brought the community closer together.”
History of Art in the Square
The fundraisers of SWC have evolved considerably over the years but no change was more momentous than the decision to bring an end to the long-standing tradition of a community spaghetti dinner. Back in 1999, Robin Snyder was the Spaghetti Dinner Chairperson and it was becoming evident to all that Southlake was growing faster than they could boil the pasta. With a background as an artist herself, Robin wanted to create an event the entire community could be proud of and one that would continue to grow along with the city while it maintained a feeling of togetherness long relished by those who attended the clubs spaghetti dinners. The concept of Art in the Square (AITS) was born and the rest is history.
In a past issue, Robin recalled that first year at Art in the Square, saying “It was a delightful little arts festival and the first event of its kind since the grand opening of Town Square. Families were out enjoying the day and the event was very laid-back and relaxed.” Today Robin looks upon AITS as her baby saying, “It has been fun to watch it grow from infancy through the toddler stage and a bit nerve wracking when it hit what I saw as the teenage growing pains stage. Over the last three to four years the festival has matured into what I see as its adulthood.” After the 2011 Art in the Square festival folded up its booths for another year, the funds that Southlake Women’s Club has given back to our communities topped $1.4 million. With a first year list of artists numbering 44 and attendance of approximately 40,000 who would have foreseen how the festival would morph into the enormous success it is today? Southlake Women’s Club members never had any doubt.
Sherri Whitt, SWC member and current Chairperson of the Foundation was President during the club’s inaugural arts festival and recalls, “I remember being at the very first VIP party held in a tent in front of the town square gazebo, it was so hot that night. We were preparing to greet guests and I said to those around me, ‘It’s unbelievable what we’ve accomplished so far, and it’s only going to get bigger and better.’ Today she notes that artists return year after year because of the friendliness and hospitality.
Making Art In The Square Work
Current SWC President, Kathy Talley, explained to us how this group of very dedicated ladies pull together Art in the Square so successfully year after year. According to Kathy, the chairperson for AITS serves two consecutive years always providing for an experienced Chairperson to be on board while a future Chair learns the ropes. The Chairperson for 2011 and the upcoming 2012 show is Samantha Munns who shared these thoughts with us, “The first year was like stepping into the abyss – although I knew enough about the event, having chaired Volunteers for two years, it immediately became apparent that there was so much more to this role than I could ever have imagined. I was very fortunate to have such a wealth of experience surrounding me and I always had someone to ask for advice when I needed it.” To make the festival a reality every year takes numerous committees working with three separate entities, the City of Southlake, Inland Development, (the leasing partner of Town Square) and Cooper and Stebbins (Town Square Developer). Samantha said. “I know what to expect this year and am looking forward to working with all the committees again to make it another huge success.”
As the festival grew from 44 artists and 40,000 attendees to last year’s numbers of more than 150 artists and approximately 80,000 in attendance, SWC saw a need to form a steering committee to ensure consistent guidelines for all facets of the three-day event. Every individual committee attends its own meetings with City council, Inland, or Cooper and Stebbins to allow for multiple responsibilities to be taken care of simultaneously. With everyone bringing reports to the central steering committee any facet of the festival can be examined individually and one group can maintain all the pertinent information.
Kathy said, “Our focus has always been on making sure the festival is the best it can be. We’re receiving attention nationwide. Over 700 artists applied for 2011 and we picked 150.” This three-day juried art festival attracts artists from across the country as well as several international artists using varied mediums of expression. Founder Robin Snyder explained the jury process to us, saying, “Each juror is selected for their particular expertise in an area of art. We try to keep the jury well balanced. The artists submit three photos of art and one shot of their booth setup.” Narrowing the hundreds of applicants down to the talented people you see during the festival is no easy task but these women are more than up to the challenge.
Not only the women serving on all of the AITS committees are up to the task, but their husbands and the entire community come together to help make the event a success. Over 600 volunteers and thousands of man hours are needed to pull off the three-day festival that allows the Southlake Women’s Club to give back to numerous North Tarrant County charitable organizations every year. “It’s a huge volunteer effort,” President Kathy Talley says, “Give these women a role and they run with it. It’s a testament to all of the women in our community, they are amazing.”
Impact on Southlake
In 2011, the City of Southlake commissioned a survey to poll patrons attending the annual AITS event with a questionnaire designed by National Service Research (NSR) with input from the City of Southlake and Southlake Town Square management. According to the findings of the survey, 86% of the people who attend AITS come from outside the city limits of Southlake and more than half of the patrons planned to shop and/or dine in the restaurants while in Southlake.
Mayor John Terrell commented on the impact that the festival has for our city, “It is clear that AITS has increased tourism, generated much appreciated tax revenues and provided funding for numerous charitable organization, but it has also been a catalyst for continued focus on the arts. Art and the enjoyment of art has been a driving force here in Southlake for a number of years. Recently, it has become more formalized with the adoption of a public art plan. I believe that Art in the Square is one of the cornerstones of our long-term commitment to incorporate a celebration of the arts in Southlake. As time goes on, I think that Southlake will earn well-deserved reputation as a City with a strong pledge to supporting the Arts.”
Art in the Square has the distinction of being one of very few art shows where there is no entrance fee making heading to Town Square for the event a perfect family outing. The City of Southlake survey found that almost half (46%) of the people attending were aware that the proceeds from the event benefit area charities. However, many attendees may not know that AITS is one of the highest caliber events of its kind run completely by a volunteer, not-for-profit organization with the mission of raising money for charity. A professional paid staff runs the majority of festivals similar to AITS on a for-profit basis. When you attend Art in the Square you can enjoy knowing you are helping a grass-roots organization raise funds that will be poured right back into our communities.
As Mayor Terrell observed, “ Art in the Square is not just another art festival; it is a nationally ranked, top juried art show that is held in Southlake, Texas. It is the epitome of focus on quality and a great example of our citizen groups' incredible involvement in the success of our City. It is a partnership that not only adds to national recognition and local quality of life, but also, has raised more than $1.4 million to help fund charitable organizations in NE Tarrant County.
Southlake, and specifically Town Square, is the perfect environment to host an event such as Art in the Square. The "hometown" atmosphere, sidewalks and the park space provide a great canvass for artists to display their works and for people to come out, look and even purchase artwork for their homes.
For many years now, we have been proud partners with the Southlake Women’s Club for this event. The event continues to draw people from all over the country and the Southlake Women's Club deserves full credit for the event’s continued success… I am looking forward to what they have planned for 2012.”
So many of the SWC members have a personal connection to one of the many beneficiaries either by serving on a board or volunteering their time to a cause they believe in. Charities seeking funds are welcome to fill out a grant application online and after the show the entire membership revels in handing out the over-sized beneficiary checks. Kathy said, “It brings me to tears every year when we give out the giant checks. The charities are always so appreciative. I feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in all that we’ve accomplished.”
Beneficiaries Speak Out
Rita Goodner, President of North Texas SNAP (Special Needs Assistance Partners) speaks highly of SWC commenting, “The Southlake Women’s Club Foundation grant funds have truly been a blessing for our members. These funds allow SNAP young adults to get to and from work, education, and social events. We could not obtain our goal of providing a support system for individuals with intellectual disabilities without the support of caring organizations such as the Southlake Women’s Club.”
The Battered Women’s Foundation has been a beneficiary of Southlake Women’s Club for many years. Linda Pavona with the Battered Women’s Foundation spoke to us about the loyal support of SWC over the past years remarking, “Because of their generous annual donation to our Emergency Program, countless women and children have been assisted with rent, utilities, medical care, food, and clothing when they so desperately need it. Beside their monetary donation, SWC members often volunteer at our intake facility and collect much needed items such as laundry detergent and personal products whenever we ask them! The members of the SWC are lovely women with generous hearts who make a profound impact upon our community and the BWF is so grateful for their continued friendship and support!”
For numerous years SWC has also supported the Summer Santa camp scholarships for children. Cyn Choate, 2011 Volunteer Camp Placement Director, asserts, “The success of the camp scholarship program depends on the generosity of organizations like the Southlake Women's Club Foundation. In 2011, Summer Santa received 411 applications for camp scholarships. After reviewing the applications with our guideline requirements, 252 children were awarded the gift of a week of summer fun and much needed positive experiences. The average 2011 scholarship cost was $236 and the grateful thanks of the children were priceless. Enclosed in this brief message is the sincere gratitude of the children Summer Santa serves to the Southlake Women’s Club Foundation for their support in our efforts to promote summer smiles.”
An article on Southlake Women’s Club would not be complete without mentioning the longest running fundraiser, in place since 1995, the school supply sale. Every year SWC aids CISD parents and teachers by providing pre-packaged CISD-approved school supplies. Each August the sale is held in person at Carroll High School, and online, allowing parents to easily take care of their student’s supply needs with a custom-packed, shrink-wrapped package tailored to each class level ensuring students have the exact supplies they need. Since the inception of the program, more than $300,000 has been raised which is distributed directly back to the participating schools to provide funds to purchase materials necessary for curriculum enrichment. SWC even provides scholarships for students with a financial need. The school supply sale is just one more way SWC gives back to our community.
Mayor Terrell sums up the significance of the Southlake Women’s Club saying, “For many years now, we have been proud partners with the Southlake Women’s Club for this event. The event continues to draw people from all over the country and the Southlake Women's Club deserves full credit for the event’s continued success… I am looking forward to what they have planned for 2012.”
All of us at Southlake Style whole-heartedly agree with Mayor Terrell. Since the inception of our award in 2009 we have been honored to recognize individuals like inaugural winner, Brian Stebbins, and last year’s winner, Judge Brad Bradley who have made long-standing and significant contributions to our community. Continuing our tradition, we are proud to acknowledge Southlake Women’s Club with our third annual Community Impact Award for their unsurpassed dedication to service and devotion to charitable giving in our community.