By Morgan Bryce

Increased accessibility to the visual arts is the goal of a new space under construction at the corner of North Fifth Street and North Railroad Avenue in Opelika.
Previously the home of Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church, the soon-to-be-named project is an initiative of J. and Ginger Stern of the Henry J. Stern Family Foundation, an Opelika-based nonprofit.
Local architect Behzad Nakhjavan is overseeing the project’s construction, with Phase 1 focused on transforming the sanctuary into an art gallery and creating a space for an artist’s residence that will be used for art education courses. Phase 2 will focus on the development of the church’s fellowship hall into a space where artists can create or focus on their work.
The project’s purpose is two-fold, created with the intention of honoring the legacy of their mother and longtime Opelika City Schools art teacher Roslyn, as well as creating a sustainable space where local art appreciation can blossom.
“Visual arts is very important to us … how we grew up, what we did. We were both kind of artists in our own way, not in visual art, but in a creative (sense),” the Sterns said. “The community needs it, (but) things have changed, things have shifted. There’s a phenomenal potter’s group going on here but there’s really no places to paint.”
The Sterns drew inspiration from a similar concept they discovered during a trip to “The Arts Depot,” in Abingdon, Virginia.
“There’s a core group of resident artists who have a studio space, and they all live (in the area). They do everything from weaving to pottery to sculpting to painting to photography – all visual arts,” the Sterns said. “It’s 10 times the size of what we’re planning to do here, but there’s some neat concepts and stuff from there and other similar places that we’re (borrowing ideas) from.”
Once opened, there will be heavy emphasis on the presence of local artists and wide range of art mediums represented within the space. Each artist who applies for residency will be vetted by a yet-to-be-assembled board of directors, and if approved, will be required to offer arts education programming geared toward engaging Opelika’s youth.
“There’s so many local artists, so many from Opelika, that were friends with mom, people that mom taught or those that didn’t know her. In the short term, until we get the whole thing going, let them come from a weekend and stay, set up, paint and have a show. Just a way of promoting art,” the Sterns said.
Through the center’s opening, the Sterns added that they plan to increase available art programming throughout downtown Opelika and create membership, with proceeds helping cover operating expenses.
Follow the Observer for updates on the center’s construction and eventual opening.