OCEAN CITY – The new Ocean City Center for the Arts is anxiously awaiting its grand opening in a couple weeks but in the meantime classes and activities are already taking place.

Ocean City Center for the Arts Executive Director Rina Thaler came before the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday afternoon to report on the new center, which is the new home for the Art League of Ocean City. With her was Board President Marian Bickerstaff, Vice President Emily Schwab and Past President Betty Stork.

In July of 2011, Thaler came before the Mayor and Council asking the town to enter into a public/private partnership with the Art League of Ocean City to construct a long awaited art center.

With $600,000 contributed by the city to the project, and $200,000 the Art League raised through the Annual Sandcastle Home Tour, the building was on its way.

“Although our budget was small, considering the size of the project, the cost, not only of the building but of demolition and site work, once the city signed on, there was no stopping us,” Thaler said. “Since then many people have come together to make this dream a reality and the project has become a testament to how government and ordinary citizens can work together to positively impact the community. “

Once the town partnered with the Art League, a non-profit 501-c3 organization, state funding was eyed. Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Norman Conway introduced legislation, and a bond bill was secured for an additional $250,000 in state funding towards the fixtures and furnishings for the building. Worcester County then pledged $20,000 a year for five years, which will help with operational costs.

“The greatest testament to this project is the many private citizens and business people who have donated funds, contractors who have provided services, and the donations, furnishing and equipment, and the volunteers who have offered their time to make this truly a first-class facility and an amenity that this whole town can enjoy,” Thaler said. “While all this may sound great on paper, the building itself is stunning and truly elevated Ocean City’s arts offerings to another level.”

Thaler announced the grand opening of the new Ocean City Center for the Arts will be held Friday, March 1 at 4:30 p.m. The center is located on 94th Street bayside. A reception will be held featuring local artist Patrick Henry and a display of the Ocean City Life Saving Museum, all in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Art League of Ocean City.

Though the official grand opening is not until March 1, there is already occupancy in the building that is open every day year-round. As Thaler spoke, there was a class of 22 people painting in the building.

“We have been busy with classes and open studios every day since we opened last Monday,” she said. “Not only have we had a steady stream of people coming in asking for information on classes and memberships, but there is a pilgrimage of people coming into the building that were former Art League members and had given up on there ever being an art center, and they have been coming in literally crying when they walk into the building so filled with emotion when they see how beautiful it has turned out.”

Thaler, who had attended a strategic planning workshop with city officials and citizens a couple of weeks ago, was pleased to hear one of the most notable successes in Ocean City in the past year was the construction of the new art center.

“The future is indeed bright for the arts in Ocean City,” she said. “But it is not enough for us to have this great facility. What we need to do is do great things in it.”

The Art League is focusing on expanding children’s programs into the future, among other initiatives. They have recently been granted $25,000 by the PNC Foundation to help engage children in painting, pottery, drawing, and other mediums.

March 9 and 10 the art center will be holding the annual Shirley Hall Show, which is a youth art exhibit of middle and high school students, and in conjunction free kid art activities will be offered.

The Summer Art Adventure Camp that has been held in conjunction with the Recreation and Parks Department the past two years at Northside Park will continue this summer in partnership with the town but will be held at the new building beginning July 22.

“In addition to children’s programs, another goal is to open it up to the 20-30-year-olds in this town,” Thaler furthered. “A lot of people come to Ocean City and grow up here and once they graduate they have nowhere to go to engage them in the town.”

Council President Lloyd Martin thanked Thaler for everything she has done as the executive director.

“I got to tell you, the group that you have has worked so hard to make it what it is today. We have 50 years of history into it and moving forward, and you have contributed to what makes this city so special,” Martin said.