At a time when schools nationwide are eliminating arts education and nature programming, Ohio County's Oglebay Institute is committed to growing appreciation of both.
The Institute, formed in 1930 to develop cultural, educational and recreational programming, operates six facilities — the School of Dance, Stifel Fine Arts Center, the Glass Museum, the Mansion Museum, Schrader Environmental Education Center and Towngate Theatre & Cinema.
"Although its broad scope makes Oglebay Institute a complex organization, the benefits far outweigh the challenges," said Misty Klug, director of marketing and communication at the Institute. "By combining financial and staffing resources, Oglebay Institute provides multi-disciplinary programs and serves as a cultural hub for the city. Whether it's through dance performance, painting a picture, collecting antiques, acting in a play, engaging in nature study or enjoying a musical concert, the Institute is a gathering place for all people who want to engage in creative expression through whatever medium they choose."
Russell Brown, the institute's assistant marketing director, said taking programming into area schools "furthers our mission as an organization."
"We're really providing programming that schools are losing nature programs and art programs," he said. "We're filling the void in those areas."
Brown said there's much to choose from.
At the Stifel Fine Arts Center, guests will find changing art exhibitions, live music, wine and beer tastings and a variety of classes geared to children as well as adults, "everything from pottery to painting, traditional mediums, also some tech-related classes, filmmaking, digital photography, animation, that sort of thing."
The Institute's School of Dance offers ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, ballroom dancing and personal fitness classes.
The Schrader Environmental Education Center attractions include the A.B. Brooks Discovery Trail System, EarthTrek Exhibit Hall, a Children's Awareness Area and the Corson Wildflower and Butterfly Garden. It also has classes and camps taught by some of the region's foremost naturalists and environmental educators. Seasonal activities include nature walks, astronomy and family campfires in the evening.
Towngate Theatre, located in a former church in Wheeling's historic Centre Market district, offers a full season of plays for kids and adults, as well as classes in the performing arts. The theatre also shows critically acclaimed films and is a popular backdrop for local musicians and bands.
The famed Mansion Museum, purchased by the late Earl W. Oglebay in 1900 as his summer retreat, is one of the crown jewels of the park, featuring period antiques and depicting Wheeling's history from pioneer times through the Victorian era. The Glass Museum, meanwhile, features several thousand examples of glass and china made from 1820-1939 in Wheeling, including the famous Sweeney Punch Bowl, the largest piece of cut glass in the world. There also are glassblowing demonstrations and workshops.
"We're one of the few places in the region where you can see live glass-blowing demonstrations throughout the year," Brown said. "We have public walk-in glass-blowing workshops throughout the year."
Klug said the arts and cultural activities offered through the Institute rival those of major metropolitan areas.
"Most cities and towns have a museum, a theatre, a nature center, art galleries, dance studios, etc. But they are all separate entities. The Institute is unique in the fact that the organization doesn't focus on just one area. It incorporates a broad spectrum of arts, cultural and nature education programs," she said.
"We believe that the experiences and learning opportunities we provide are essential to the quality of life in our city. People will always seek out ways to explore, create, enjoy and appreciate art and nature. In the Wheeling community, we are lucky that we don't have to search very far. These opportunities are right here for everyone to enjoy."