Art Works Downtown's story begins about seven years before its founding. Back in the early '90s?when local businesses started closing down en masse?Phyllis Thelen got an idea. Rather than let Fourth Street go to shambles, the cultural-affairs advocate filled empty store windows with artwork to make them more attractive to passersby and bored security-camera monitors. That's when she discovered the building that would become Art Works Downtown, located on Fourth Street. Built in 1878, it was once known as Gordon's Opera House. Phyllis just knew this rundown yet beautiful building would make the perfect art center. So she and four peers founded the Art Works Downtown nonprofit organization and set to work remaking the 40,000-square-foot space into a community jewel.
They started by remodeling 13 rooms, turning them into studios for local artists to rent, and eventually opening a storefront gallery to showcase their work. Nowadays, Art Works Downtown strives to keep the heart of the area's art scene beating. The center houses 35 art studios for rent, three galleries, a caf?, a jewelers guild, a frame shop, a ceramic center, other arts organization, and 17 affordable apartments that help professional artists keep working. Aspiring artists of all ages, meanwhile, can attend classes, and art lovers can find inspiration by visiting constantly changing exhibits in four galleries.