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SEP-OCT 2016

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Page 76 of 77 75 S E P T E M B E R / O C T O B E R 2 0 1 6 and serves as a model for artisan communities around the nation. The guild also gave rise to the downtown Arkansas Craft School, which offers classes in media like glass and clay. The highly accom- plished faculty offers nearly 45 weekend workshops that groups can attend April through November. Abandoned after the devastating f loods of 1951, North Topeka's business district became notorious for disrepair and high crime. Tourists and locals alike avoided North Kansas Avenue. A two-block stretch has been transformed in the span of a few short years into what is today the thriving North Topeka Arts District, known locally as NOTO. Nikki Sloup, co-chair of the NOTO board, said the dramatic turnaround came much faster than organizers anticipated. "Everyone's getting behind this," Sloup said. "There's so much to see and do, and we're growing exponentially." Artists have f locked to North Kansas Avenue from across the Midwest, and nearly 30 now call NOTO their permanent home. Originally built in the late 1800s, business facades and interiors have been restored to their High Victorian glory and transformed into galleries, boutiques, cafes, eateries and antique shops. Many artists work from second-f loor studios where they can watch the lively street below. Groups are best served by visiting NOTO on weekends, when the district hosts meet-and- greets with artists, gallery tours and antique crawls. Weekends are also the best opportunity for visitors to attend workshops in an array of media. The first renowned artist to commit to NOTO was Barbara Waterman Peters. Visitors can watch her work in Studio 831, where she is joined by many more artists. Another important stop is the 80-foot mural that backs into an alley off North Kansas Avenue created by Philadelphia muralist Isaiah Zagar. "We really have tremendously talented artists to celebrate and want to give them a platform to amplify their work, to give them a stage and an area where they can be celebrated," Sloup said. She expects NOTO to overtake two to three more blocks in the coming decade. Grand Central's future artisans are perfecting their skills in 90 open workshops at College of the Ozarks, just south of Branson. The college, which provides on-campus work for students to fully fund their educations, invites groups to stop in to see their progress. "What's interesting is that it gives students the opportunity to create and make beautiful things, but to do it in a way that benefits them," said Richard Cummings, associate professor of art at the college. Many students graduate to become successful artists and art teachers, he said. Courtesy Mew and Company Students give free guided tours of the campus, or groups can wander at their own pace. Every tour includes a stop at Edwards Mill, a fully operational replica of an 1800s gristmill powered by a 12-foot-diameter water wheel turned by runoff water from nearby Lake Honor. Inside the mill, some students grind whole-grain meal and f lour while others work in the weaving and basket studios. Similarly popular are the stained-glass studio, the pottery studio and the fruit-and-jelly kitchen, where groups can expect demonstrations and free samples. "People can talk one on one with students, or students can give talks to whole groups at a time," Cummings said. The Ozarks' high level of craftsmanship is on full display at the Williams Memorial Chapel in the center of campus. Students took years to build the architectural gem made of limestone, wood and stained glass. In addition to creations by students, the art department brings in works from around the world. The Boger Art Gallery draws crowds with rotating exhibits from nationally prominent artists throughout the year. The college is also proud of the Ralph Foster Museum, which houses thousands of pieces dedi- cated to the history of the Ozarks. The eclectic col- lection has everything from Thomas Hart Benton's historic cover for "The Grapes of Wrath" to the original clunker used in "The Beverly Hillbillies." An artist hand-paints stationery at Mew and Company in Medicine Park.

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